We all know I am a big fan of transformation-themed stories. In addition to that, I am a big fan of old scifi and fantasy short stories. So when I began stumbling across fantasy and scifi pulp magazines from the 1940s and 1950s with great images on them of women seemingly transformed or transforming I could not stop myself from collecting some. The first one that I am proud to review here is Avon Fantasy Reader No. 9, published in 1949.

The cover of my copy of Avon Fantasy Reader No. 9

The cover of my copy of Avon Fantasy Reader No. 9

Seeing the cover, I think it’s pretty clear why I was so eager to read it, eh?

However, while reading it a question came to me; how do I review this? By each story? As a whole? What do I grade this against? It was something similar to – yet so different from – my Playboy reviews that I was temporarily set aback.

Then I came up with something was both a) great, and b) the only time I will turn to baseball for help; I’ll score each story as a “Swing and a miss,” Swing and a hit,” or for exceptional stories a “Swing and a home run.” After all, each story was an opportunity for the editors to put their best story/player forward, and the entire issue/team can be judged by how well they do.

So, with the usual SPOILER warning (although I tried to refrain on stories I really loved), here we go;

Check out a scene by "Protie" Anne inspired by Athle from THE FLOWER-WOMEN, now available in SexyFantasyComics.com

Check out a scene by "Protie" Anne inspired by Athlé from THE FLOWER-WOMEN, now available in SexyFantasyComics.com

The Flower-Women
by Clarke Ashton Smith
First Published:1935
Transformy goodness gets underway right out of the gate, as the story starts with the powerful wizard/ruler Maal Dweb speaking to a woman called Athlé – who was transformed into a statue in order to “preserve [her] frail, corruptible beauty from the worm-like maw of time.” Maal just likes the pretense of speaking with someone, since she’ll never respond.

After briefly meeting Athlé we find that Maal is bored – thanks to his power and omnipotence – and he decides he needs some adventure. He searches for a situation that sparks some interest in him, and he eventually finds one on the planet Votalp. Abandoning many of his powerful artifacts Maal travels to Votalp in order to intervene on a situation involving reptilian sorcerers – the Izpazar – and the vampiric Flower-Women (both of which are well illustrated above). Maal is ultimately victorious over the Izpazar after he screws with one of their potions and devolves 99% of them to helpless and unintelligent forms. During the adventure the Flower-Women are described in great detail and Maal even shrink down to hide amongst one’s pedals, but their animalistic minds keeps them from play a large part in the actual story.

Clarke Ashton Smith was one of the greats of his time, even referred to by H. P. Lovecraft himself as “Klarkash-Ton, the Atlantean philosopher.” This particular story by Smith is no mar on his reputation – we are immediately thrown into a vast and strange universe, very quickly created around Maal Dweb. It was a fun read, but I caution that the vocabulary Smith employs will challenge your mind and dictionary…I’m still looking up some terms.
Swing and a…home run!

The Night Wire
by H. F. Arnold
First Published: 1926
Even though the reader is far removed from the action of the story, this is the only tale in the collection that actually caused my hair on the back of my neck to stand on end. Even in our world of Tweets and instant information, the concept of a man on the late shift of a newsroom 90 years away slowly reading the wired stories of a town being overrun with demonic fog resonates with me. I don’t want to say much more, as it would ruin the tale entirely, but this story that contains no women and no transformations is still a great story worth reading in any Age of Information.
Swing and a…hit!

Through The Vibrations
by P. Schuyler Miller
First Published: 1938
I was so bored by this story that I put the Avon Fantasy Reader No. 9 down for two whole days because I dreaded having to finish the story. It is touted as a scientific exorcise of what may have happened to the City of Atlantis – of course this is the same science that predicted flying cars by the 1990s. Although the idea of scientists traveling to different dimensions through vibrations is an interesting one – especially when done in 1938 thought and terminology – there is very little adventure once our protagonists reach their unexplored world. Instead, the story goes from exceedingly boring description of locale to strangely unsettling images of violence once the Atlantean city is found. The only vaguely transformation-positive part of the story is a fungus that wiped out the Atlantean population by transforming them into the fungus before crumbling into dust-like spores, but this event is brief and played more in the vain of horror than anything that could be read with a fun or fantastic twist.
Swing and a…miss.

The Man Who Never Grew Young
by Fritz Leiber, Jr.
First Published: 1947
Fans of Age Regression will love this story, even though not much happens in the actual text. The narrator starts by describing his immediate lifestyle – which is living as a traveler in a hunter/gathererer style village – and his restless lady lover, Maot (who is quite hot for him at the moment). As the narrator muses on his thoughts we readers discover that he is immortal, and that humanity managed to have a war so terrible that Time itself reared back from it and has been flowing backward ever since.

The story is fascinating, as everything run backwards and everyone accepts this as the natural order of things. The Great Pyramids have been carved up, their stone placed back in the mountains. Life is described in detail, such as one being exhumed, having organs reinserted by a mortician, then gradually growing younger. The narrator himself wonders if he will help Maot find her mother to be absorbed…or if he will just abandon her in the desert.

It is a fascinating concept explored to a satisfying extent, and really makes for a fine entry in the issue!
Swing and a…home run!

The Man From The Moon
by Otis Adelbert Kline
First Published: 1930
Mr. Kline’s story is presented as the beginning of one of the great legacy stories that followed Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom novels. The concept proposed in the tale is that our Moon was once a highly populated and great empire seat, and the craters are the wounds from a mutually destructive war between the once-independent world of Magong and the planet Mars that wiped out 99% of each population and explains why Magong fell into orbit around our planet.

Although a vast interplanetary war is described, it could have been more entertaining to me if it weren’t for the strange problem of dinosaurs and ancient man practically coexisting given the story’s timeline…oh, and the racist revelation that every “yellow-skinned” person on Earth is descended from the only survivor of Magong, who crashed landed in Asia and passed on his skintone to the locals when he started interbreeding.

Yep.

The tale has some interesting ideas that are just too dated to be enjoyed today…or should have been when it was written.
Swing and a…miss.

The Unspeakable Betrothal
by Robert Bloch
First Published: 1949
This entry suffers from WAY too much mood setting. The decades long seduction between young woman Avis Long and the creatures she can see when in the twilight of her mind takes so long to finally pick up steam I thought the locomotive was just coasting. When we finally get to the part of Avis needing to be transformed in order to travel with her late night visitors – and that transformation is never seen, she is found as little more than a deceased head the next morning – I was reading less out of interest and simply to see if all my time had been spent leading up to a decent pay-off.

It hadn’t been.
Swing and a…miss.

The Stone Ship
by William Hope Hodgson
First Published: 1914
The fact that two of the oldest stories in this issue were amongst the best is not a fact I’ve overlooked. The Stone Ship does suffer from a lead up that is nearly too long, but the intrigue gets going quick enough to rescue things. I won’t say much so as to not ruin a fairly scary and intense story, but it does have a very intriguing aspect that differentiates it from the other entries in the collection. While most authors were happy to scare their readers and leave them wondering about what happened, Mr. Hodgson actually closes the story with a complete and scientific explanation in regards to the events that unfolded. It sets the tale in league of its own, on being both scary and completely thought through.
Swing and a…hit.

Child’s Play
by Alice-Mary Schnirring
First Published: 1942
Anyone who’s done tabletop gaming and/or been picked on when young will enjoy this gem of a story. Henry is a young boy whose parents were killed in a car accident, which also crippled him. He lives with his aunt and uncle and bully of a cousin. But when playing the game with his friends he is Kirwan, ruler of Draco. The story gradually builds as Henry lures his cousin into the game, and then uses his cousin’s own imagination to exact revenge in the real world. Not only is the tension wonderfully built up, but the switch between Henry’s actions and Kirwan’s are smooth – and even creepy!
Swing and a…hit.

The Madness of Andelsprutz
by Lord Dunsany
Written between 1914 and 1918
This is more of an imaginative prose than it really is a story, even though there is narrative. It is really a thought experiment, born during the first World War, of what happens to a city when its spirit is broken. Does that manifestation of history and lights move on to another place? Could it meet the spirits of other lost cities? Certainly the strangest tale of the bunch (even over Clark Ashton Smith’s entry), but never once did it lose me.
Swing and a…hit.

The Painted Mirror
by Donald Wandrei
First Published: 1937
Mr. Wandrei’s story follows a young boy who discovers a mirror that has been painted over. Out of curiosity he chips off the paint, gradually revealing that the mirror shows not a reflection, but a scene of another world. Trapped inside this world is a beautiful woman, running in extreme slow motion towards the glass.  Eventually the boy’s mind is sucked into the mirror, swapped with the woman, who paints over the glass once more.

Since the story contains, it seems, Time Slow and Gender Swap you’d think I might recommend it on this alone. But beyond some description of how far the woman in the mirror has run between subsequent days of paint scraping, neither subject is lingered on for long. Instead, I recommend the story because it is very good, capturing the overwhelming curiosity of children that can overpower the consideration of, “Why was this painted over in the first place?”
Swing and a…hit.

Home Runs: 2
Hits: 5
Misses: 3

THE FINAL VERDICT: That I consider 70% of the stories in the Avon Fantasy Reader No. 9 at least “hits” should indicate how much value this book has if you find it.

But it is really the book’s two home runs – The Flower-Women and The Man Who Never Grew Young – that bring the Petrification, Plant-Hybrid, and “Age Regression worked out to the Nth degree” aspects to this collection. Those alone are worth a good price, and one would be remiss to pass on any of the good fiction to be found in this collection.

And it proves, to me at least, that there’s something to be said about the printed word. It allows these tales to carry on – over 60 years later – without the need of servers, binary, or even electricity. It shows that mankind has always been brilliant. Curling up on a sofa, with only a soft light behind you and the crinkling pages under your fingers, is still an experience that can cut to one’s core.

Check out an image inspired by Athlé in SexyFantasyComics.com!

Check out a scene by "Protie" Anne inspired by Athle from THE FLOWER-WOMEN, now available in SexyFantasyComics.com