The two novels contained in The Rim of Morning: Two Tales of Cosmic Horror by William Sloane are surprisingly satisfying. Well-written and displaying a strong command both of style and the standards of the scifi horror genre, these works present an interesting look into the early history of such work.
They function well as science fiction and even better as mysteries and tales of horror.
These novels make me wonder how much influence Mr. Sloane might have had on the genre if he’d continued his career as an author. Instead, he turned away from writing and spent most of his life as an editor and publisher.
In his introduction, Stephen King lauds Mr. Sloane’s work as cross-genre, mashing up scifi and horror decades before cross-genre was all the rage, as it is today. I think Mr. King is wrong about this.
Science fiction has a long history of finding terror in the territory it explores. Scifi horror stories were incredibly popular in the late ’30s. Look also at the mass market pulp magazines of the Golden Age and prior, or the scifi movies on the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s—there are innumerable tales of monsters and creeping fear in the scifi canon. The fear of technology and aliens, mutated monsters and doomsday weapons, is deeply rooted.
Science pushes us beyond the limits of what we know. It stands to reason that science has long been a focal point for our fear of the unknown. Science has always presented as much threat as opportunity, and scifi has had the pulse of that from the beginning.
Mr. Sloane wasn’t creating ahead-of-his-time genre mash-ups with these novels. Rather, his goal was to take the popular scifi horror tales of his time and elevate them to a higher level of literature.
In this, he largely succeeded.
Both novels are well-conceived and plotted, letting the suspense simmer just the right amount of time before the crisis comes to a boil. The Edge of Running Water is notably superior to To Walk the Night, being more confident and commanding in tone and style.
If I’m disappointed by anything in these novels, it’s that the climax of The Edge of Running Water strikes me as too small and somewhat anticlimactic. I expected mass destruction and got small-scale ruin, instead. I must keep in mind, though, that my expectations have been conditioned by giant SF movie spectaculars and this novel was written in 1939. The ending was probably sufficiently shocking for its time.
Beyond that, I’m surprised most of all by how well these stories hold up to modern expectations. It’s to be expected that the characters occasionally speak and behave in ways that seem dated, and the technology on display is closer to the Steam Age than the Digital Age.
But the works still feel fresh and vibrant. The central themes still resonate. They don’t feel stale.
I’m particularly impressed by how Mr. Sloane wrote his female characters. Being works from the late ’30s, one expects a certain pre-feminist depiction of women. Instead, he presents women who are smart, strong, and capable. Women who are very much the equal of the men. Women who have personalities as varied as the men. In short—women who are believable people and not just femmes to compliment the men.
Compared to much of the scifi from this era, it puts Mr. Sloane far ahead of his contemporaries.
The Rim of Morning is worth reading for the glimpse it provides into the history of the scifi horror genre.
More importantly, it’s worth reading because these novels are good.