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Great Tales of Action and Adventure by…
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Great Tales of Action and Adventure (1958)

by George Bennett (Editor)

Other authors: 'Saki' (H. H. Munro) (Contributor), G.K. Chesterton (Contributor), Arthur C. Clarke (Contributor), Richard Connell (Contributor), Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Contributor)7 more, William Fryer Harvey (Contributor), Robert S. Lemmon (Contributor), Jack London (Contributor), C.E. Montague (Contributor), Edgar Allan Poe (Contributor), John Russell (Contributor), Carl Stephenson (Contributor)

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First published some 50 years ago, this collection of stories shows a bit of aging in what short stories are selected. I found it interesting that, for me, the best works were from writings that were already rather old for the time of publication (a Father Brown tale from G.K. Chesterton, a Sherlock Holmes tale from Arthur Conan Doyle, and superbly ageless word craft from Jack London). On the other hand, the forward-looking science fiction tale from Arthur C. Clarke seemed especially dated. All in all, it was a reasonably good meal for readers, even if every morsel wasn't ambrosia. ( )
  larryerick | Apr 26, 2018 |
I'm such a sucker for these old Dell paperback compilations! When I saw this one on the shelf of a used book store, complete with cover art featuring an inscrutable barbarian (complete with nose ring!) and a couple of lads engrossed in a fistfight, I couldn't resist. Seriously, though, how much of a chance are you really taking on a complication that includes such authors as G.K. Chesterton, Saki, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur C. Clarke and Jack London? Nor was I disappointed: these terrific tales are chock-full of mid-century moxie and pulpy thrills!

Take the first tale, in which our adventurer-entomologist finds himself trapped in a cave with man-eating spiders. Time to worry? Heck no - not so long as you're possessed of sufficient manly determination and courage! Not only does our hero escape the spiders, but he collects enough dead bodies to deliver to museums all over the world. Because that's what 1950s action-adventure heroes do.

Ditto "Leiningen versus the Ants," in which our eponymous hero battles a relentless swarm of ravenous ants intent upon overrunning his plantation and killing everything in its path. Needless to say, the ants are no match for Leiningen's steely determination and McGyver-like cunning.

Chesterton's "The Blue Cross" features one of my personal favorite crime solvers, Father Brown, pitted against an international jewel thief disguised as a fellow priest. Just when you think the good Father has gone genuinely batty this time, along comes a denoument so delightfully clever that I laughed aloud. So how *does* the father realize that his cabin mate on the train isn't, in fact, a member of the clergy? As the Father explains: "Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men's real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil? But as a matter of fact, another part of my trade, too, made me sure you weren't a priest." "What?" asked the thief, almost gaping. "You attacked reason," said Father Brown. "That's just bad theology."

If there's anyone out there who *wasn't* required to read Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game" in high school, I'd be shocked. Even so, you'll thoroughly enjoy re-reading the tale as an adult. Between his love of Madame Butterfly and his taste for fine dining, General Zaroff could be the prototype for Hannibal Lector, and Rainsford - with his gift for recalling handy native Ugandan hunting traps and cliff diving - would be completely comfortably chumming around with Doc Savage.

Just in time, John Russell's "Fourth Man" turns the tables on our relentless parade of male Caucasian heroes by pitting three escaping convicts who fancy themselves clever against a mute Amazonian "barbarian" who they treat with condescension and disdain. After a week at sea without fresh water, however, the felons turn on each other, and it becomes satisfyingly obvious that the "barbarian" is the truly clever one.

Next comes Saki's brisk, brilliant morality tale, "The Interlopers," in which two sworn enemies are forced to decide between either making peace of facing sure death. Any other author would leave it at that, but this is Saki, so hold onto your armrests and brace yourselves for the twist ending!

Granted, I've read Doyle's "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" about 20 times, but I never grow tired of this tale of approaching doom foreshadowed by rows of innocuous little dancing stick figures drawn in chalk. As a child, my best friend and I spent months creating codes and trying to "break" them using Sherlock Holmes's word frequency methodology.

In contrast, I've only read Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum" a handful of times - but this tale of a fellow swept up by the Spanish inquisition and tormented by being hurled in a pit as a wicked-sharp pendulum gradually descends towards his prone form loses none of it's suspense over the course of multiple readings. No James Bond villain ever constructed a more nefarious trap.

Arthur C. Clarke's "Rescue Mission" takes an introspective turn, examining Earth's culture through the eyes of a superior race. With our sun set to supernova at any instant, they've raced across the galaxy in an attempt to rescue any sentient beings inhabiting the star's solar system. What they discover on Earth once they get there poses all sorts of wonderful unanswered questions. But it's the final exchange that makes the story, when one of the aliens jokes: "We'd better be polite to them; after all, we only outnumber them about a thousand million to one," after which Clarke adds, almost as an afterthought: "Twenty years afterwards, the remark didn't seem so funny."

William Fryer Harvey's "August Heat" was familiar - I'm guessing I encountered it in an anthology somewhere. This tale, in which an artist draws a picture that seems to foretell his own death, offers a nice little supernatural chill, especially when he happens upon a stoneworker who just happens to be engraving - utilizing an extremely sharp chisel - a headstone with his name on it. Who knows what ordinarily sane men might be capable of when driven mad by the relentless August heat?

Jack London's "To Build a Fire" is a timeless classic, with the added bonus that the title pretty much gives away the plot. Will our rash hero - who has set out to hike cross country in the bitter cold despite the warnings of his peers - be able to build a fire before the cold claims his life? Much like "Fourth Man" above, it soon becomes obvious that the man's trusty dog is the truly clever one.

The collection wraps up with C.E. Montague's "Action," which is apt, for this tale of a man who rediscovers his will to live after surviving a brutal test of endurance represents everything that we could want in an action-adventure tale: a hero endowed with brains, courage, and steely self-control, an abundance of danger, a dash of derring-do, and a whopping dose of adrenalin.

In summary: a thoroughly entertaining reading experience! ( )
1 vote Dorritt | Sep 11, 2017 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bennett, GeorgeEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
'Saki' (H. H. Munro)Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chesterton, G.K.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Clarke, Arthur C.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Connell, RichardContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Doyle, Sir Arthur ConanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Harvey, William FryerContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lemmon, Robert S.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
London, JackContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Montague, C.E.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Poe, Edgar AllanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Russell, JohnContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Stephenson, CarlContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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