This isn't really a mystery collection, as it contains tales of the speculative fiction variety, focusing mainly on horror and SF/fantasy, though there are definitely a couple of stories that belong to the mystery genre as well. As you can see from the cover below, this collection contains 31 stories, and they have been grouped into four different sections: Strange Futures, Future Crimes, Tales of the Dark, and History Retold. The first of these groups features stories that are mainly SF/fantasy, the second is mystery stories set in the future, the third is horror stories, and the fourth contains stories set in the past with a supernatural slant.
From that you'll understand that our main focus will be on section two, but there are a couple of stories in the other sections that are of interest for the mystery fan, and let's begin with them.
In the first section, we find one story with a mystery plot, "The Wolfram Hunters". It has an underlying religious theme, and is set in a future after an atomic war has reduced the human survivors to tribes of relative savagery. The puzzle plot, concerning an impossible vanishing of one of the tribe's hunters, is very good indeed. I had read it before I came across it in this collection, and to be honest, I should probably have included it in my previous post on Hoch's impossible crimes.
"Bigfish" from the third section is much different. Although featured in the horror section, this does not contain any monsters or similar horrors that Hoch uses in the other stories in this section, instead focusing on the horrors that exist in the human race. This is nowhere near a puzzle plot mystery - I would probably characterise it as a psychological thriller with a twist. If you like that kind of stuff you would probably enjoy this quite a bit. It certainly is memorable.
And in the fourth and final section, there is the story "The Other Phantom". It's set in the Paris opera house, and you'll probably guess that it does feature our friend the Phantom of the Opera. The plot revolves around a journalist who's decided that he wants to reveal who the Phantom is, but during his night vigil he is stabbed to death. Unfortunately, there's not much of detection in this story, instead everything is just explained by one character towards the end. A disappointment, at least when looked on as a mystery.
So, let's get stuck into section two, consisting of eight mystery stories set in the future. Five of them are very short, close to flash fiction, often featuring a bit of a twist ending. There's not much room for plot or clueing, but since they are so short they generally get the job done. Those five stories are: "Co-Incidence", "Versus", "The Future Is Ours", "The Homesick Chicken" and "The Daltonic Fireman". But there are three stories that are a bit longer (though none of the stories in this collection are long - there's nothing here that could be described as even a novelette).
The first of these is "The Forbidden Word", set in a future US where the cultural difference between the East Coast and the West Coast has developed into a chasm. Mr. Gregory has come to a meeting at the Los Angeles branch office of his firm to discuss the declining sales figures when he is arrested for having mentioned the word "earthquake". This is an adventure thriller, and a somewhat amusing one at that, though based on a very chilling presumption. The ending packs a bit of a punch.
Following this is a more regular SF mystery, "Computer Cops", which features the recurring characters from Hoch's only novel series, Carl Crader and Earl Jazine, who work for something called the Computer Investigation Bureau. In this case, they investigate how someone could have accessed a business tycoon's private computer even though it was hidden behind several security measures. I have to say that Hoch's predictive abilities were pretty admirable. His view of the computer world is not all that far from what we have today - which is rather impressive, seeing that this story was written in 1969. The case is something of an impossible crime, though I can't say that that part of the story wowed me much.
The last one of these three somewhat longer stories is "Night of the Millennium". This is a conspiracy thriller story with a young student getting involved in a plot where revolution looms in a not too distant future. I found this the least successful of these three stories, it's a bit too light and I didn't find the plot too engaging. Readable, but not much more.
Considering that this is not touted as a mystery collection, I had adjusted my expectations accordingly and was therefore not particularly disappointed. It features a couple of very good stories - and the mystery based "The Wolfram Hunters" is certainly one of them - but I think a reader has to enjoy at least either science fiction or horror for this to be worthwhile.
But if you are, as I am, then I think you'll agree with me that this is a good collection. As mentioned it manages to collect 31 different stories, and though they all belong to the speculative fiction genre, there's still some variation here, with tales ranging from horror to SF to fantasy to thrillers and so on and so forth.
Though be forewarned that the stories range from very short to fairly short, so this is a collection for readers who are looking for great ideas, not for great characterisation.
Christian - Ed Hoch was one of the world's wonders with nearly a thousand short stories to his credit, so we shouldn't be surprised if there were some clinkers among them. Based on your review, I'm definitely considering buying THE FUTURE IS OURS.ReplyDelete
P.S.: By some weird coincidence, I just posted about one of Hoch's Captain Leopold stories:
Captain Leopold is a favourite of mine, and I'm glad to see that the story you review is actually available for reading on the net - I don't think I've read this one before. Thanks for alerting me to archive.org, there seem to be a couple more EQMM issues available there.Delete