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THE SOUND OF HIS HORN
By SARBAN (Ballantine Books; 1960)

This classic of science fictionish terror is quite simply one of the most vivid and powerful tales of horrific suspense ever written. Iíve read this short (125 page) but deeply potent little book several times, and have never been able to shake its wildly fantastic yet curiously elemental premise, or its dark, hallucinatory aura.

     Itís a literal campfire story, with Alan Querdilion, a British gentleman, telling his family an allegedly true account of what happened to him during WWII, when he and several fellow soldiers escaped from a Nazi POW camp. Querdilion split from his fellows and stumbled upon some sort of time warp, which transported him into a future where the Nazis have won WWII and taken over the world.

     Yes, this is an ďalternate historyĒ novel, one of the first and absolute best such tales. In THE SOUND OF HIS HORNíS alternate timeline the Nazis have developed the master race concept considerably, raising specially adapted slaves and cross-breeding humans with monkeys and panthers to perform violent acts for the amusement of a select few. But most horrific of all, as Querdilion is set to discover firsthand, is a MOST DANGEROUS GAME-styled hunt in which people are let loose in the vast forest surrounding the Nazisí command post, where theyíre hunted by the evil Count von Hackelnberg and his animalistic cohorts.

     Hackelnberg lets loose a noisy blast on his personalized horn each night at the beginning and end of the hunt, and later serves up his prey at a post-hunt banquet. Thereís also a young woman named Kit, a fellow huntee who serves as the obligatory love interest (in a mercifully brief subplot) while filling in the details of the world beyond the forest, which as you might guess is in dire condition, having been all-but decimated by the Nazis.

     The tale, penned by Sarban (a.k.a. John W. Wall), a renowned English horror writer (his other works include THE DOLL MAKER and RINGSTONES, the latter nearly as powerful as the present novel), is superbly economical and concentrated, with a convincingly worked-out future world related with just the right amount of detail--enough, in other words, that it never overwhelms or slows down the headlong narrative. The prose is appropriately atmospheric in its rendering of a seemingly prosaic, technology-free landscape that in the hands of Sarban becomes a shadowy realm of nightmarish pursuit and absolute horror.

     

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