Review: Great Tales of Action and Adventure

This is a 1973 paperback I picked up on the cheap from a used bookstore. It’s an anthology, one that was reprinted several times (this was the 21st edition), and it caught my eye because several of the stories included were familiar to me from the radio program Escape.

Included are:

The Bamboo Trap by Robert S. Lemmon, a writer I had not heard of before, and from a quick internet search doesn’t seem to have written much. This tells the story of a man hunting for a rare carnivorous spider; initially at a loss to find one, his luck changes– in a bad way– when he falls into an underground cavern. Unable to climb out, he soon discovers that the cavern is where the spiders seek shelter during the rain. Effective and creepy.

Leiningen versus the Ants by Carl Stephenson is one of the stories I had encountered on Escape; it works just as well in print. This is the story of a plantation about to be overrun by a vicious swarm of ants, but the plantation owner refuses to yield, and comes up with a strategy for battling them. You don’t get much more “man versus nature” than this one!

The Blue Cross by G.K. Chesterton I had read before; it’s probably the best-known of Chesterton’s Father Brown stories.

The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell was another Escape adaptation; I had also seen the 1932 motion picture, but nothing compares with the original (though Escape was incredibly faithful, right down to the dialogue). This is the original (and often ripped-off) tale of a madman who hunts the most dangerous prey– man! The frantic pace never lets up– one of the best short stories I’ve ever read.

The Fourth Man by John Russell is another entry which was adapted for Escape (seriously, did the show’s producers edit this book?). This tale tells of three men newly escaped from prison awaiting a ship that will rescue them; with them is a fourth man– to them, a savage native who is worth no consideration, and is simply employed to steer the raft for them; but as the three ex-cons begin to suffer from lack of food and water, they wonder why the fourth man is unaffected. Features one of those great “just desserts” endings.

The Interlopers by Saki is a typically brief, typically cynical tale. Two long-time rivals are pinned beneath a tree in the woods and cannot free themselves. At first they proclaim how they’ll make the other suffer when they are freed; then they begin to feel empathy for each other and consider laying their old feud aside. However, fate has a different plan.

The Adventure of the Dancing Men by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was another I had read before, part of the Sherlock Holmes canon.

The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe, another old favorite by the master.

Rescue Party by Arthur C. Clarke is the first I’ve read by this author. Although I sometimes call myself a science fiction fan, there’s very little in the genre that I enjoy reading. This one is an okay pulp story. It tells of an extraterrestrial expedition to Earth set hours before the sun is expected to go nova; the ship’s crew (a mixed federation of different races) hope to evacuate some Earthmen into their vessel, but the planet seems to be deserted. The last line gives you something to think about.

August Heat by William Fryer Harvey is another one I know from the radio, albeit from Suspense. This quick tale tells of an artist who draws a picture of a man he’s never met; then he encounters the man in the flesh and learns that he carves tombstones; the second man has carved the first man’s name and date of birth into a stone intended for exhibition…and he chose that day’s date for the date of death. Peculiar story. I’ve always liked it.

To Build a Fire by Jack London I read in college. This tells the story of a man in the north who makes some fatal errors, placing his life in jeopardy.

Action by C.E. Montague is the last story of the book, and was (say it now) adapted for Escape. However, the radio adaptation (which I liked) changed the ending, projecting a different meaning into the story. This is the tale of a man who has suffered a stroke, and begins to find life unbearable. He decides to end his life doing something he loves– climbing. He chooses a glacier that is unclimbable, and sets out prepared to die fighting. But then he finds a strength he hadn’t known before. Much as I like the radio adaptation, the original is even better.

And that’s it; I may review other books as I finish them. My other current books are Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and Saki’s Short Stories and the Unbearable Bassington.

MH

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