Crom Your Enthusiasm (10)

By: Barbara Bogaev
August 12, 2015

sloane

One of 25 installments in a series of posts analyzing and celebrating a few of our favorite fantasy novels from the Thirties (1934–43). Enjoy!

TO WALK THE NIGHT | WILLIAM SLOANE | 1937

When we first meet Selena, the widow of an incinerated astrophysicist — accident, murder, suicide, or spontaneous combustion, we’re not sure — it’s immediately apparent that she cannot be of this earth. How so? Because although she’s gorgeous, she doesn’t know how to dress or walk or keep house properly. Because she’s socially awkward, she’s coldly unemotional… and she’s amazingly intelligent, too.

Just as my fists start to clench in reaction to the sexist assumptions of William Sloane’s genre-bending (fantasy/sci fi/whodunit) novel To Walk the Night, the author provides clues suggesting that the story’s sexist narrator — “Bark” Jones — is an unreliable, likely closeted gay man. Bark fusses about hors d’oeuvres, notices when a skirt hem hangs crookedly, and descends into a boozy fugue state when his adored boyhood friend and roommate, Jerry, falls for Selena. Although we’re never explicitly told so, it’s implied that Bark is threatened by and jealous of this otherworldly beauty, who steals his best friend away and leads him ultimately, to a horror-filled end, complete with all the pulp fiction trappings — telekinesis, theories of time travel, and an alien intelligence possessing a human form.

With the sympathetic portrayal of the grieving, tortured Bark — quite an achievement for the Thirties — To Walk the Night is hardly the lurid, churned-out pap its (paperback) cover art promises. Instead, this complex, surprisingly modern study in alienation unfolds before the reader like bolts of iridescent silk, thanks to Sloane’s polished, highly visual prose style.

Above and around us, the night was undergoing a change: the great constellation of Scorpio was low on the western sky and the darkness was turning to a tarnished, misty silver. […] I thought of the eastward spin of the earth, rolling through space. The minute area of its surface which the two of us occupied was being turned toward the sun — the eastern edge of the continent borne along inexorably into the light of a new day.

In one stately passage after the next, Sloane positions humankind as a dot in the immensity of the universe. Meanwhile he ekes out our horror — and our curiosity about the specifics of the science behind the alien seductress’s murderousness — long after we’ve essentially solved the mystery angle. A master class in protracted suspense, To Walk the Night transcends its many genres to stand in a category all its own.

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CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): Erik Davis on Jack Williamson’s DARKER THAN YOU THINK | Sara Ryan on T.H. White’s THE SWORD IN THE STONE | Mark Kingwell on C.S. Lewis’s OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | David Smay on Fritz Leiber’s THIEVES’ HOUSE | Natalie Zutter on Robert E. Howard’s QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | James Parker on J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT | Adrienne Crew on Dion Fortune’s THE SEA PRIESTESS | Gabriel Boyer on Clark Ashton Smith’s ZOTHIQUE stories | John Hilgart on H.P. Lovecraft’s THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD | Barbara Bogaev on William Sloane’s TO WALK THE NIGHT | Rob Wringham on Flann O’Brien’s THE THIRD POLICEMAN | Dan Fox on Hergé’s THE SEVEN CRYSTAL BALLS | Flourish Klink on C.S. Lewis’s PERELANDRA | Tor Aarestad on L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt’s THE ROARING TRUMPET | Anthony Miller on H.P. Lovecraft’s THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH | Suzanne Fischer on E.R. Eddison’s MISTRESS OF MISTRESSES | Molly Sauter on Herbert Read’s THE GREEN CHILD | Diana Leto on Edgar Rice Burroughs’s TARZAN AND THE LION MAN | Joshua Glenn on Robert E. Howard’s THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON | Andrew Hultkrans on H.P. Lovecraft’s AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS | Lynn Peril on Fritz Leiber’s CONJURE WIFE | Gordon Dahlquist on H.P. Lovecraft’s THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME | Adam McGovern on C.L. Moore’s JIREL OF JOIRY stories | Tom Nealon on Fritz Leiber’s TWO SOUGHT ADVENTURE | John Holbo on Robert E. Howard’s CONAN MYTHOS.

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KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | GILL SANS | AKZIDENZ-GROTESK | CALIFORNIA BRAILLE | SHE’S NOT THERE | FAUX DEVANAGARI | FUTURA | JENSON’S ROMAN | SAVANNAH SIGN | TRADE GOTHIC BOLD CONDENSED NO. 20 | KUMON WORKSHEET | ELECTRONIC DISPLAY | DIPLOMA REGULAR | SCREAM QUEEN | CHICAGO | CHINESE SHIPPING BOX | SHATTER | COMIC SANS | WILKINS’S REAL CHARACTER | HERMÈS vs. HOTDOG | GOTHAM.

HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | “That’s the Joint” | “Freedom” | “Rapture” | “The New Rap Language” | “Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)” | “Can I Get a Soul Clap” | “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” | “Making Cash Money” | “The Message” | “Pak Jam” | “Buffalo Gals” | “Ya Mama” | “No Sell Out” | “Death Mix Live, Pt. 2” | “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” | “Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)” | “Rockit” | “The Coldest Rap” | “The Dream Team is in the House” | The Lockers.

KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | Kirk’s eulogy for Spock| The joke is on Kirk | Kirk vs. Decker | Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk | Captain Camelot | Koon-ut-kal-if-fee | Federation exceptionalism | Wizard fight | A million things you can’t have | Debating in a vacuum | Klingon diplomacy | “We… the PEOPLE” | Brinksmanship on the brink | Captain Smirk | Sisko meets Kirk | Noninterference policy | Kirk’s countdown | Kirk’s ghost | Watching Kirk vs. Gorn | How Spock wins

KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | KAMANDI | MACHINE MAN | SANDMAN | THE X-MEN | THE FANTASTIC FOUR | TALES TO ASTONISH | YOUNG LOVE | STRANGE TALES | MISTER MIRACLE | BLACK PANTHER | THOR | JIMMY OLSEN | DEVIL DINOSAUR | THE AVENGERS | TALES OF SUSPENSE | THE NEW GODS | REAL CLUE | THE FOREVER PEOPLE | JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY | 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

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What do you think?

  1. Yes, gotta seek this out — the optimistic 20th century looked to the stars as a vista to fill, not a margin of alone-ness, and melancholy at the sky being the limit is unusual for hopeful or hyperbolic space fiction of the time (or even this one)…

  2. wow, sounds like the story of Jack Parson’s death prefigured in sci fi. the paperback cover looks like Cameron, Parson’s wife.

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