Anthony Boucher’s 1969 The Compleat Werewolf and Other Stories of Fantasy and Science Fiction is a fantasy and science fiction collection. It would be confusing were it not a fantasy and science fiction collection … although I should add that it is not a Fantasy and Science Fiction collection in the sense some might have expected from Boucher1.
Something that always surprises me: how young Boucher was when he died. Given his prominence in the SF and mystery worlds of my youth—there is a convention named after him! — I imagined him as some ancient figure. He was in fact just fifty-six when he died of lung cancer in 1968.
Although the collection under review was published in the late 1960s, the stories it contained all date from the 1940s. They reflect this. Boucher is faithful to the conventions of the era, which makes a number of the tales discussed below broadly predictable.
The Compleat Werewolf • [Fergus O’Breen] • (1942) • novella
Love-smitten academic Professor Wolfe Wolf indulges in an afternoon of hard drinking after he is rejected by former undergrad Gloria Garton. Now a top movie star, Gloria Garton has more appealing romantic options than “Professor Woof-Woof.” A magician whom Wolf meets in the bar reveals to Wolf an astounding fact previously unknown to Wolf: the professor is a werewolf! Surely this will be enough to win the heart of Hollywood’s most fetching starlet! Or at least cost Wolf his job and entangle him in an enemy spy ring.
Investigator Fergus O’Breen plays a role in this, although not one I could squeeze into this synopsis.
Interesting reflection of the times: Wolf is not fired because he allowed his infatuation with Gloria to provide her with what we’ll call an undue amount of personal mentoring when she was an undergrad, although it’s pretty clear that he did (and also that this played very little role in her eventual success). He is fired for appearing in a co-ed class while both sober and naked. Also, there’s a subplot about so-called work spouses involving a secretary named Emily, another character I don’t have room to explain, and who could do a lot better than to be quietly smitten with Wolf. As could Gloria, for that matter, and she’s a Ratzi spy. Sorry, spoilers.
Given the era in which this was written, it was pretty clear that Wolf would somehow end up with poor plain, loyal Emily — sorry for the spoiler for an eighty-year-old story — and that somehow glamourous Gloria would be revealed as unworthy of Wolf. The actual means by which the author tries to make this plausible are even less believable than the whole werewolf twist.It may be a dig at Jack Parsons’ circle.
“The Pink Caterpillar” • [Fergus O’Breen] • (1945) • short story
O’Breen is dispatched to Mexico to verify that the Frank Miller who died in a small Mexican town is the same Frank Miller whose life insurance policy is about to be paid out. A minor discrepancy in the death certificate proves not to be insurance fraud but evidence of an attempt to cheat fate through dark occult means.
There were two more O’Breen stories, neither of which I can remember clearly. The Frank Miller in this story is neither the former Premier of Ontario nor the comic book writer.
“Q. U. R.” • [Quinby’s Usuform Robots] • (1943) • short story
Earth having been nearly depopulated thanks to its failed attempt to conquer Mars, its Empire is dependent on robot labour. The propensity for robots to go mad and/or break down is therefore a global crisis. Dugg Quinby’s Q. U. R. has the solution: stop constructing humanoid robots and produce usuform devices suited to their tasks. But this would threaten Robinc’s robot monopoly, something for which Robinc President Sandford Grew will not stand. Q. U. R.’s only hope is a zany scheme!
On the plus side, it is a plot point that humanity has set aside race hate to the point where a black man can head an important agency and his race will only be noted by those he encounters as proof that society has shed its old prejudices. On the minus side, this is because humans would much rather persecute helpless Venusians, as demonstrated by a mob attack on a random Venusian (featured early in the story). The protagonist at least feels embarrassed that his immediate reaction to a lynching is to avert his eyes while crossing the road.
Should intelligent robots be regarded as slaves? The author does not comment.
“Robinc” • [Quinby’s Usuform Robots] • (1943) • short story
Grew isn’t finished with Q. U. R.! Political machinations having failed, he resorts to brute force. Unfortunately for Grew, he uses a robot as his hit man and the boys at Q. U. R. are adept at Kirking robots.
“Snulbug” • (1941) • short story
Having turned to the Dark Arts in an attempt to fund his research, a scientist has to work out how to achieve this end given only the unwilling aid of a depressed and underpowered demon.
“Mr. Lupescu” • (1945) • short story
A killer manipulates a young boy in order to conceal a murder as either suicide or accident. The murderer fails to comprehend the power of belief.
This is one of those stories where the Big Twist would have been much more effective if its editor had not published many “belief made it true!’ stories.
“They Bite” • (1943) • short story
A ruthless adventurer exploits local superstition to conceal a murder, only to discover that the legendary monsters are all too real.
This is not a power of belief story. It’s a “if the locals tell you to stay off the moors at night, stay off the fucking moors at night” story.
“Expedition” • (1943) • short story
Off-handedly sadistic aliens are dissuaded from invading Earth thanks to a quick-thinking human’s misleading use of photographs.
Also undermined by the existence of about a zillion variations on the basic idea.
We Print the Truth • (1943) • novella
Well-meaning newspaper editor John MacVeagh is granted his heart’s desire: that his paper print only the truth. To MacVeagh’s astonishment, the wish is far more powerful than simply preventing untruths from appearing in the paper. Anything printed in MacVeagh’s paper is true. If the paper says a murderer turned himself in, he does so. If MacVeagh’s paper proclaims the end of the war raging across the world, why, it ends. At least far as anyone in town can tell…
Magic always has a catch, in this case the speed with even someone with lofty ideals can be corrupted by a power whose limits he does not understand and whose consequences he could not foresee.
In defence of the wish-granter: that entity plainly understood the wish was dangerous, but it had given its word to grant a wish before finding out what the wish was.
Having set his editor up as a man who at least aspires to personal virtue, Boucher then has him make some very questionable decisions, some motivated by lofty ideals and others (like a piece about how much his wife loves him) for more personal reasons. MacVeagh does belatedly understand that magically compelling someone to love him has a number of down sides, but he focuses more on the impact on him of “stripping her of her free will” (he will never know if she truly loved him) and less on the impact on her (Neither will she). Oh, well. It was the 1940s.
“The Ghost of Me” • (1942) • short story
A very confused Doctor John Adams struggles to comprehend how he can be haunted by his own ghost, particularly given that Adams is not yet dead. The answer is not comforting.
Doctor John Adams is neither President John Adams or President John Quincy Adams.
The Compleat Werewolf and Other Stories of Fantasy and Science Fiction is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Chapters-Indigo). I did not find it at Book Depository.
1: Allow me to clarify: although this is a collection of fantasy and science fiction, it is not a Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction collection. While Boucher did edit the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from 1949 to 1958, and he did helm the annual The Best from Fantasy and Science Fiction from 1952 to 1959, this is drawn from Boucher’s personal output of fantasy and science fiction as published in magazines such as Unknown and Astounding . I hope that makes everything perfectly clear.