Thursday, December 25, 2014

Telepathic Undersea Plants

It's Christmas Day, so I'm writing about a Space Opera horror story because.... um, because...

SHUT UP! I just am.

Leigh Brackett's science fiction stories often have horror overtones. I've just read "Terror out of Space" (first published in the Summer 1944 issue of Planet Stories) and it is arguably the best example of this.

Some bizarre life-forms floating around in space have landed--perhaps inadvertently--on Venus. Seemingly intelligent, these creatures can gain control over males, somehow inspiring worship and complete obedience. Often, the men under their control end up dead. The creatures are called the Madness from Beyond or the Vampire Lures or simply the Things. To find a way to fight them, one of them has to be captured alive.

An attempt to bring one in alive results in an aircraft crashing in one of Venus' vast ocean with one human survivor and the Thing loose again. The survivor, named Lundy, must don a vacuum suit, gather up some extra oxygen tanks, and walk across the sea bottom to get to the coast.

Along the way, he encounters an intelligent undersea plant-life living in a ruined city. The species has two sexes, which I'm not sure makes much sense for plants, but by now the story is so engrossing that this is forgivable.  Besides, we aren't given any real details about their physiology, so there's probably any number of ways this can be explained.

The males of the species have been lured away by the escaped Thing and are now in danger of being attacked and killed by another plant species called the Others. What follows is Lundy's attempt to save the males, himself escape from the Others and re-capture the Thing. We learn the Thing's motivation along the way, which just might provide Lundy with a way to survive this whole business.

It's a great story, hitting just the right creepy vibe at the start and leading into a truly exciting sequence at the end when Lundy is trying to escape from the Others. The undersea setting adds to the atmosphere and the plant creatures have a unique vibe to them.  But the horrific elements in the tale do not overshadow the real feeling of humanity that Brackett infuses into her work. We like and care about Lundy and we easily think of him as a real person.

Brackett's protagonists are in the end heroic characters who always understand the difference between right and wrong. As a result, no matter how horrific or bizarre her stories may be, they are never without a sense of hope.

You can read or download "Terror Out of Space" HERE.

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