(Not long ago, A.V. Club editor Keith Phipps purchased a large box containing over 75 vintage science fiction, crime, and adventure paperbacks. He is reading all of them. This is book number 40.)
Has anyone read this book? I don't just mean people reading this piece now, I mean anyone, anywhere ever. Maybe even the authors. There are two of them and they don't seem to be writing the same book. Maybe they skipped each others' contributions. Where to start? Let's start with this: I love to read. I couldn't do this project if I didn't. I look forward to my commute each day for the uninterrupted reading time it allows me. And yet, I came to dread it over the course of reading this book, which I was determined to plow through for the sake of being done with it. Seldom has 317 pages felt so long. A representative sample of the turgidity:
"Are you a woman?" I asked suddenly. Perhaps I should not have asked it; she was so sad and beautiful, somehow I could not doubt her sincerity. There was a burden at the back of her sadness, some great yearning unsatisfied, unattainable. She dropped her head. The hand upon my arm quivered and clutched spasmodically; I caught the least sound of a sob. When I looked up her eyes were wet and sparkling. "Oh," she said. "Harry, why do you ask it? A woman! Harry, a woman! To live and love and to be loved. What must it be? There is so much of life that is sweet and pure. I love it—I love it! I can have everything but the most exalted thing of all. I can live, see, enjoy, think, but I cannot have love. You knew it from the first. How did you know it? You said—Ah, it is true! I am out of the moonbeams." She controlled herself suddenly. "Excuse me," she said simply. "But you can never understand."
Who's the man and who's the woman? I could tell you but let me tell you this instead: It doesn't matter. Serialized in Argosy All-Story Weekly in 1921 and reprinted for some unknown reason years later, The Blind Spot is about a professor named Dr. Holcomb who, shortly before delivering a lecture on something called "The Blind Spot," disappears through a mysterious portal at a San Francisco house at 288 Chatterton Place. (If this is a real address, it doesn't turn up on Google Maps, but maybe that's just supernatural forces at work.) The Blind Spot turns out to be a portal to another world. We know this pretty much from the moment Holcomb vanishes but it's not until page 292, after a whole chapter discussing ether and its many forms, some different colored crystals and what they represent, the spirit world, the real world, and on and on, that Holcomb himself reveals:
"I had my theory; between the spiritual and the material there must be a point of contact. And—I had found it! I had discovered the road to the Indies, to the Occult, to all that other men call unknowable. And I called it– "The Blind Spot."
What do we get in between? Characters walking into and out of The Blind Spot. No, seriously. It's page after page of characters either meeting folks out of the Blind Spot with names like Rhamda Avec and The Nervina–strange, beautiful people confused by the trappings of 20th century life–or ordinary people (and one dog) confronting and disappearing into the Blind Spot. Sometimes they reappear and disappear again. Between reappearances and disappearances they talk. At length. About the Blind Spot. Only in the last 100 or so punishing pages do we follow them in to discover a semi-feudal fantastic world not far removed from Burroughs' Mars. It takes forever to get there and it's not worth the trip. Along the way, authors Austin Hall and Homer Eon Flint keep introducing interchangeable character after character. They all start to pile up on top of one another when they don't disappear. About halfway through, in a chapter called "At The Eleventh Hour" (if only!) one of our heroes gets a calling card from "Sir Henry Hodges" quickly referred to as the "English scientist about whom the whole world was talking." He's approximately the 18th major character to enter the scene and his entrance heralds the appearance of a bunch of other experts in science and the occult. But despite the fanfare, they play no major role and are quickly forgotten. Were Hall and Flint just making this up as they went along? I have little doubt they were. Early on, a character notes the irony of attending the opera Faust shortly before meeting a man from the Blind Spot, but if there's a remotely Faustian theme at play in this book it eluded me. Famed science fiction enthusiast Forrest Ackerman provides a glowing introduction that reveals that Hall wrote the first bit, Flint the (slightly better) middle bit, and then Hall returned for the end. That at least explains why the book keeps shifting from first to third person, including once in mid-chapter. Released as a serial, it has the feel of a yarn stretched well beyond any kind of natural endpoint. It's a short story made into an epic. Flint died young in an apparent carjacking. (There's a nice bio here.) Hall survived to write a sequel. It's not in the box. I will never read it. The Blind Spot is available for free here. Enjoy. Oh, and I think I'm taking next week as a bye week. I need to cleanse the palate. So see you in one or two, depending how well the cleansing goes.
Next: Space Opera by Jack Vance
Then: Goldfinger by Ian Fleming