Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Jekyll Island Horror

Novelette by Allen M. Steele

The story is presented as a manuscript by another writer, discovered by Allen Steele while visiting Jekyll Island for a wedding. The story takes place in March, 1934 and is told by the Sol Hess, the valet of a wealthy but struggling pulp magazine publisher, Mr. Russell.

While wintering at the fancy Jekyll Island Club in Georgia, Russell and Hess both enjoy themselves in their own ways, meeting women, and Hess finds time for his ambition to be a pulp SF writer. But one day, a strangely large meteorite is seen falling towards the island, and then things move into traditional Lovecraft story territory.

In that vein, I actually like Steele's style here better than Lovecraft's or Howard's, although it's still a homage to the era. There is a partially explained, implied scientific explanation for events, and the ending is nice and unresolved, but I'm not terribly impressed. Mostly I think it's that I was underwhelmed by the horror itself, and not terribly interested in the first half or so of the story, although by the end I was pretty interested in Hess' life.

The main value of the story is in the possibility that a pulp SF writer left a story as a sort of one-last-joke on his descendants, and the whole thing being within Steele's supposedly true frame narrative adds another layer to our examination of the plausibility of "true stories" told by SF writers. So an interesting conceit, in an average, not bad, not great, story.

3 gentlemens' gentlemen out of 5.

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