Tag Archives: Isaac Asimov

Deals with the Devil

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Deals with the Devil (Abridged): Twelve Terrifying Tales About Men Who Made Pacts With the Devil [Amazon, Abebooks, Local Library] ed Basil Davenport, with stories from, I had trouble finding the list, so this may include sombunall from this abridged volume and may include some from the prior unabridged edition, in no particular order: J Sheridan LeFanu, Max Beerbohm, Lord Dunsany, Anthony Boucher, John Collier , John Masefield , Henry Kuttner, Theodore R Cogswell, Ford McCormack, Arthur Porges, Isaac Asimov, Guy Maupassant, Stephen Vincent Benét, and L Sprague De Camp.

Davenport Deals With the Devil

The abridgment of this volume consists in the omission of some stories from a larger earlier edition; the remaining stories are intact. Davenport’s chatty introduction is an admirable overview of the history of diablerie, given its brevity. The tales are an entertaining assortment, more given to the topics of riddles, trickery, gambles, and bargains, than to matters of metaphysics, demonology, or diabolism. I was especially interested in the Dunsany story “A Deal with the Devil,” and while I did enjoy it, it was far out of the orbit of the high-fanastic Dunsany that I relish. Two selections are preoccupied with betting on horse races, and many involve a three-wishes mechanism little different than yarns that might feature djinni or leprauchans. On the other hand, a few do emphasize gruesome punishments which the central characters want to avoid, or — in more than one case — to administer. Some of the later stories in the book tend toward the science-fictionally satirical, and remind me a little of the work of James Morrow.

Galactic Empires: Volume One

Hermetic Library Anthology Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Galactic Empires: Volume One [Amazon, Local Library] ed Brian W Aldiss.

Aldiss Galactic Empires Volume One

This anthology volume is made up of science fiction stories mostly from the third quarter of the 20th century (1951-1975). It is constructed around themes within the general space opera subgenre. Its four subsections are titled “A Sense of Perspective,” “Wider Still and Wider …,” “Horses in the Starship Hold,” and “The Health Service in the Skies.” The themes were not as coherently demonstrated as I would have liked, and the book got off to a shaky start with two weaker stories from authors I like: R. A. Lafferty and Arthur C. Clarke.

It was interesting to me to read the original Asimov “Foundation” story in the text first published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1942. Although it has been decades since I read the Foundation novel, one difference was obvious: Hari Seldon was not the pioneer of psychohistory, but simply “the greatest psychologist of our time” (96). I suspect some actual psychologists set Asimov straight regarding the aims and limitations of their discipline. The cliffhanger ending made this piece an odd inclusion here, though.

It had been a long while since I had read anything by Clifford Simak, and I found his longish story “Immigrant” to be one of the more enjoyable ones in the book. I also appreciated the rather naïve romp of Coppel’s “The Rebel of Valkyr,” even though its plot twist was telegraphed quite obviously. It offered better star wars than Star Wars. With some exceptions, I found the longer stories more deserving of my attention, and the shorter ones tended toward negligibility.

Representations of gender in these selections are often painfully dated, if not downright reactionary by today’s standards. There is only one female author included, and her story “Brightness Falls from the Air” is a mournful one about interracial exploitation.

I have a copy of Volume Two of this collection. The first volume was good enough that I expect to read the second, but not so cohesive that I feel any special urgency to do so.

Asimov’s Guide to the Bible

Asimov’s Guide to the Bible: The Old and New Testaments by Isaac Asimov, from Avenel Books, is part of the collection at the Reading Room.

Isaac Asimov Asimov's Guide to the Bible

“In Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, Isaac Asimov explores the historical, geographical, and biological aspects of the events described in the Old and New testaments. Asimov’s attempts to illuminate the Bible’s many obscure, mysterious passages prove absorbing reading for anyone interested in religion and history.” — back cover