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August 1998
 
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Dr. Arnoldi by Tiffany Thayer, 1934

I read Tiffany Thayer's Dr. Arnoldi for the last time when I was fifteen years old.

Why for the last time? I found the book absolutely fascinating---and disgusting. I read it as I then read most such science-fantasy works, in stand-up sessions in my neighborhood rental-library bookstore. I couldn't afford the rental fees, so I used the place as my personal library, working my way through Robert Chambers and Arthur Machen.

If I found it at all fascinating, why haven't I bought a copy to reread? Well, first you get online and try to order something by Thayer. Tiffany who? Thayer (1902-1959), rather famous in the 1930s for his brilliantly ironic Thirteen Men, Thayer, the great publicist of Charles Fort---Thayer today resides in literature's limbo.

And there are those alive today who've also read Dr. Arnoldi, who say that's exactly what the s.o.b. deserves. You see, it's a novel that deals only with death. Or rather, with the upsetting absence of death.

For some reason, never explained, death has stopped. Nobody can die anymore. There's a very dear little scene, for instance, in an execution chamber where a condemned man, electrocuted to no avail several dozen times, is---out of sheer judicial desperation---chopped up and then ground into human hamburger. The pile of hamburger goes on pulsating, utterly undead.

Sex? There's lots in the book, for sex never takes a single holiday. The human population keeps expanding over every square inch of earth, down to the unlit bottoms of the sea, up to the thinnest level of the stratosphere, humanity without end, chewing on itself. Thayer ends the novel with an understandable plea to every deity from Adonis to Zeus, "...the next time You have an idea like this to give away, You send it to H. G. Wells, because I won't bother with it."

Which is almost the way I've felt about the book, since I read it so many years ago. If you ever find a copy, give it to some sf fan you dislike. Your reward will be the baffled misery in his eyes after he's read it.

—William Tenn

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