Matheson, now entering his later years, has been on a roll of late, especially with his last novel, Hunted Past Reason (p. 691). All but the title piece (from a 1971 Playboy) in this gathering of 18 tales are very early Matheson, from pulps of the 1950–56 era and, though no mention is made of it, probably all have seen earlier reprintings in his vast body of story collections. “Duel” (fans will recall Spielberg’s TV classic version) remains by far the best-written, while most of the other stories turn on much more far-out flights. In “Third from the Sun,” a man wakes up, with his wife, their talk filled with dangers common to the period, largely the fear that the planet (clearly not Krypton) will blow up, killing everyone. The one hope: flight to a new planet in a different solar system. “When the Waker Sleeps,” a typical pulp, though told largely in the second person (You did this, did that . . .), has heroic soldiers fighting to save The Machine, which runs the world from the twelve-legged Rustons—though it’s all a dream injected into them, for reasons we won’t reveal. Matheson’s virgin published work, “Born of Man and Woman” (1950), dreams up an eight-year-old that mother and father keep chained in the cellar. If beaten, it drips green. When really upset, it runs all over the walls and ceiling. “One for the Books” really is. One morning Fred Elderman, a university janitor, wakes up to find he can speak French—a language he doesn’t know. Then he absorbs math, physics, world literature, from the rooms he cleans—including, at last, the entire university library! How can this be?
Pulps no longer: much more like Poe.