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13 November 2015 @ 04:06 pm
Fergus O'Brien, and the werewolf who was fighting the Nazis  

From the April 1942 issue of UNKNOWN WORLDS, this is one of the Fergus O'Breen yarns by Anthony Boucher. Like most of the O'Breen stories, it's a light breezy mystery with the added touch of the supernatural... here, an heroic werewolf. Now, Fergus O'Breen is a redheaded green-eyed hard-drinking smooth-talking private detective with flashy clothes.. You might gather from this that he's Irish and in fact he does call himself "the O'Breen". But he's not the main character in this story and actually isn't onstage all that much.

"The Compleat Werewolf" is the story of Professor Wolfe Wolf, an expert on German philology. Aside from the subtle name, Wolf has eyebrows that meet, hairy palms and an index finger as long as the middle finger. With all that going, it's no surprise to find out that he has a touch of the old lycanthrope in his makeup and a gin-swigging wizard named Ozymandias the Great realizes this and promptly enlightens the shapeshifter.

As it happens, Wolf can transmogrify by saying the word "Absarka" and turn into a big handsome wolf with full human intelligence. Unfortunately, he can't speak while wolfed up and has to rely on Ozzy to help him or trick people into saying the word by leaving it written for them to discover... but when he manages this, although he does change back, his clothes are still back where he left them.

Well. One complication follows another in a very tightly plotted and brisk little story. Wolf tries to impress a movie star he has an infatuation with by auditioning as a stunt dog for a movie she's making (not that kind of movie, this was 1942), Nazi spies get tangled up in the situation, Fergus gets an uneasy suspicion about the Wolf wolf, and in general there's a good deal of slapstick going on that ends with a dramatic rescue of Wolf's secretary from those Boche swine (bullets can't kill the werewolf but they're not feather tickles, either).

Anthony Boucher (actually William Anthony Parker White) is probably best remembered as editor of THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, although he also wrote some excellent fantasy stories and detective books. Like John Campbell before him, he promoted a new style in science fiction... in Boucher's case, it was a more literate, sardonic fantasy-oriented story. Sometimes it seems a bit too clever and precious for its own good (when a man is robbed, he's described as "ashen and aspen" and "the two men looked at each other with a wild surmise -silent, beside a bar in Berkeley"). But that was the trend in postwar pop culture, from noir thrillers to comedy... a little tense, a bit brittle, a little opaque. Personally, I like the full-blooded unembarassed over-the-top stuff of the 1930s and 1940s but postwar sci-fi is great in its own way.

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Gordon: Alternate Historybaron_waste on November 13th, 2015 09:34 pm (UTC)

Technically 1942 wasn't post war - not by a long chalk - but I agree, 1940s SF and Fantasy had a style that I really liked.

- Mind you, it could have been.


dochermesdochermes on November 13th, 2015 10:10 pm (UTC)
I didn't say 1942 was postwar. I said Boucher promoted a new style of science fiction in the postwar years. This story wasn't part of it, although it did show some elements that Boucher liked.
John Halljhall1 on November 14th, 2015 10:35 am (UTC)
John W. Campbell taking over as editor of Astounding circa 1940 also had a huge impact on the SF field of course.
dochermesdochermes on November 14th, 2015 04:40 pm (UTC)
Absolutely. He brought a lot of literacy and scientific credibility to the stories.

I mean, I like the wild, anything goes Space Opera of the Lensmen and Captain Future variety, but evidently that time had passed.
John Halljhall1 on November 14th, 2015 06:17 pm (UTC)
Campbell seems to have had a great knack for spotting and encouraging promising young writers such as Asimov and Heinlein. I read the anthology "The Early Asimov", and most of his earliest stories - I think all first published in "Astounding" - were pretty dreadful to be honest, though with clear signs of improvement as time passed. "Nightfall" stands out of course. It's remarkable that it's so good, when prior to it he'd shown little sign of being capable of anything anywhere near that good.
Gordon: Great World Warbaron_waste on November 15th, 2015 04:02 pm (UTC)

And while the Campbell greenhouse was busily cross-pollinating itself, Ray Bradbury was laughing up his sleeve while being published in real (and well-paying) magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post, not model-railroad-hobbyist mags (which is what pulp SF was, essentially).  R Bradbury didn't need John Campbell, and Campbell hated that, and him.