Science Fiction Though the Decades

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

1969: Gentle Invaders (Santesson, Hans Stefan)

Humor and Emotion: how these monsters are different (4/5)

Aliens are often depicted as malevolent despots, unscrupulous pillagers, conniving bureaucrats, or savage warriors. It’s refreshing to see aliens in the spotlight at truly benevolent caretakers or maintaining an innocuous presence. Perhaps these latter two extraterrestrial dispositions don’t provide as much cinematic grandeur as the former three, but their seemingly innocent temperament easily allows for humor and emotion to bubble up through an author’s creative talents; the stories in Gentle Invaders generally follow this line of thought.

Rear cover synopsis:
“The Alien is most often described by science fictionists as a horror-inspiring monster with insidiously evil intentions.

Our monsters are different.”

Monsters are often synonymous with aliens because of their projected grotesqueness and wildly exotic physiology. But nearly have the stories in this collection feature humanoid aliens. Food for thought:
How many of the people you see around you every day, the anonymous people that just look a little odd somehow, the people about who you think briefly that they don't even look human--the queer ones you notice and then forget--how many of them aren't human at all in the sense that we understand that word? (Brackett, p.53)
It’s interesting to note that the first four stories are all by female writers: Sasha Miller (1933- ), Leigh Brackett (1915-1978), Miriam Allen deFord (1888-1975), and Zenna Henderson (1917-1983). The editor, Hans Stefan Santesson, either understood that women do have a place in the science fiction community (seeing their important stories through the 50’s and 60’s) or the editor found that the women better understood the benevolent of innocuous disposition of the aliens he had in mind. Sadly, the male writers (William Tenn, Mack Reynolds, and Eric Frank Russell) steal the show with their wowing stories.


Sit by the Fire (Myrle Benedict, 1958) – 2/5 – Crotchety old Uncle Rebel lives in the hills and don’t see much of anyone at all. A young girl, shy yet svelte, approaches his out of the blue and, out of kindness, lures her to stay in his cabin. The local boys take an interest in her but she cowers to Uncle Rebel when she explains her reluctance with the natives and details her own odd physiology. 9 pages ----- Myrle Benedict (pseudonym for Sasha Miller) completely penned the story in phonetic southern drawl with abbreviated words and “a-“ intensifier prefixes (i.e. a-sittin’, a-runnin’”). The first story isn’t one that grabs the reader because it’s the human who appears gentler than the alien girl, who acts as a catalyst for Uncle Rebel’s caring. Perhaps the notion of alien’s approached country-bumpkins was silly in the 1950’s, but the reader will soon see that this idea tends to be the norm of the era.

The Queer Ones (Leigh Brackett, 1957) – 4/5 – A small town newspaper owner, doctor, and county health officer visit a remote family. One boy whose features are dissimilar to the rest of the rest of the family also has an odd internal structure. When the doctor is killed and the newspaper owner befriends another of the odd-looking children, the secret of the aliens’ hilltop encampment is slowly exposed, but the investigators may be fighting for more than their lives. 37 pages ----- Another small town is at the center of the alien incursion, but this story involves the more respectable citizens of the town. It’s a straight forward mystery of who the boy’s father is and why the aliens have set up a camp on the hilltop of their community. The ending is a tad dark when compared to the rest of the Gentle Invaders entries, but it wraps up nicely enough.

Freak Show (Miriam Allen deFord, 1958) – 4/5 – Rasi’s revolting image makes her perfect for the local freak show circus. Her mask makes her approachable and her secret mission is to see the land in order to render the humans docile before her species land on Earth to make another home for themselves. Rasi’s carnie subterfuge seems to fail and her species plight of nomadic drift may continue. 10 pages ----- Miriam would have been 70 years old at the time of this story’s publication, a remarkable feat for a woman who started to write science fiction in her 60’s. When thinking of Golden Age sci-fi, one recalls the sense of wonderment but not subtle finesse. Given the circus theme (a lรก Sturgeon’s The Dreaming Jewels [1950]), both its lead-up to the conclusion and the conclusion itself were a stroke of intelligent follow-through.

Subcommittee (Zenna Henderson, 1962) – 3/5 – The Linjeni’s landed on Earth with vague intentions. Someone shot first and now the ships are being slaughtered by the humans. The truce is at a standstill with their request for the oceans, but when asked if they want the oceans, they desist. The wife of the major in charge of the negotiation cares for their son at their home just near the glass barrier of the Linjeni. Splinter, the son, digs under the dome to more closely understand the Linjeni. 21 pages ----- Zenna has an insight into what would most likely happen during an alien intrusion. The inhumane, disconnected attempt at a concrete understanding undermines the gentler humanistic attempt to bridge vague gaps of understanding in order to find what each species share. This story is more heart-warming than the others but weakens under its predictability.

Unnatural Act (Edward D. Hoch, 1969) – 4/5 – When the aliens come to America in October 1989, the first physical examination of the species reveals a distinct lack of sexual organs. While all the other facts of the aliens were released, the American government-backed Society for the Suppression of Salaciousness is leery of the truth, which is soon revealed in a metropolitan New York newspaper and the backlash of the puritan people is both extreme and deadly. 9 pages ----- This story was previously unpublished and remains the most conversational of all the stories. It’s cheeky in its implication in modern contexts but may have been shrewder when taken into the context of the seemingly innocent collection of science fiction tales. The fact that the aliens’ sex organs were also part of its vocal organs conjured images of “unnatural acts” from the puritan populace.

The Night He Cried (Fritz Leiber, 1953) – 3/5 – A sultry woman signals a passing car and reveals herself to be from Galactic Center where she urges the man of his wayward human passion of extracurricular coitus. The man shoots her in the abdomen, but her alien physiology allows her to strip the car’s chromium for a dress and her seven tentacles reform to the “seven extremities of the human female” (99) anatomy. Reformed, the vixen attempts to seduce the same man but this time in his own home when his own girl is there. 8 pages ----- Not the strongest Leiber story I’ve read, and I do like my Leiber short stories! This story has a straight forward alien seduction but its motivation is a bit vague to pull it off successfully. I’d say the story has more of a shock factor going for it more than anything really creative.

The Martians and the Coys (Mack Reynolds, 1951) – 5/5 – A hick Kentucky family (Maw, Paw, Hank, Zeke, and Lem Coy) live for shootin’ coons and making moonshine though Lem’s fancies shootin’ himself a Martian (or a “Martin” as he calls them). As if answering a prayer, Baren Darl and Seegal Wan confront the human with their English skills and three advanced weapons for destroying all of humanity, unless Superman stop them: the I.Q. Depressor, a poison called nark, and the lepbonic plague fleas. 12 pages ----- Another country bumpkin meets the aliens plot, but this one is more fun than all the others combined. Mack Reynolds is known for his Socialist science fiction, which is usually as off-putting as the last 10% of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle Socialist tirade. Thankfully, the fresh alien perspective of the incursion onto hick territory puts smiles on faces.

Quiz Game (Frank M. Robinson, 1953) – 4/5 – Having descended onto an Indiana farm, a Hoosier professor is tasked with compiling and limiting questions to ask the small, green, and scaly aliens who now appear to be dying in the university’s chemistry lab. Self-interest requests of cancer cures and atomic fissionables top the list, but considering their rate of mortal decay, sociological and government questions come next. Given their alienness, perhaps even these are unsuitable for a species on its deathbed. 12 pages ----- Much like Zenna Henderson’s story, Robinson takes the approach of seeing humans as being too self-absorbed to see the clarity of the situation. Are humans in such despair that questions must be direly put forth to alien visitors?

Dear Devil (Eric Frank Russell, 1950) – 5/5 – Visiting a post-apocalyptic Earth, a crew of Martians find little to hold their interest before moving onto Venus, except for the poet aboard who voluntarily stays indefinitely. The telepathic poet, Fander, molds the blossoming mind of a young boy and eventually starts a thriving village which is eager to save humanity. His noble cause has seen the community expand and its technological prowess surpasses the poet’s non-technical mind, for years… then decades. 34 pages ----- As gentle as an alien comes, Russell’s story highlights the possible benevolence of an alien species, not through the eyes of a scientist or bureaucrat, but through the eyes of an artists, a poet. His “humanistic” outlook fosters the growth of the human community and while he has very little to teach in technical regards, the human brain can live and learn. Beautiful (and republished a number of times).

Party of the Two Parts (William Tenn, 1954) – 5/5 – The Gtetans are notoriously petty criminals and one named L’payr has just been accused of his 2,343rd felony for selling pornography to adolescents. The amoebic alien flees to remote, fledging Earth in order to procure fuel for his stolen ship.  The only possession worth trading, and not getting caught in trading technology to the humans, is his pornography. The biology teacher who buys the lewd alien material publishes it in a textbook and becomes ensconced in galactic law with L’payr. 20 pages ----- The silliest of the stories in the collection is also one of the most detailed in terms of perspective. The story is written from the point of view of “Stellar Sergeant O-dik-veh, Commander of Outlaying Patrol Office 1001625” to “Headquarters Desk Sergeant Hoy-veh-chalt, Galactic Patrol Headquarters on Vega XXI” (157). It covers so much alien physiology and galactic law to make the entire story silly on absurd on ridiculous; the perfect ending to the collection!


  1. This sounds like a very fun collection. I don't often read humorous science fiction or fantasy but when I do, and it is good, it is a particular pleasure. The cover of this collection is one that has a fun vibe to it as well. I'll keep an eye out for this on my used bookstore jaunts.

  2. I had low expectation for the collection but was obviously wowwed in the end... if it weren't for the recurring hick-meets-alien theme through the collection, it would have stood at 5-stars!