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April 2002
 
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Under the Triple Suns by Stanton Coblentz (1955)

"The climb seemed never-ending. They clung to swaying cables over half-mile gulfs; crawled through funnels like the ventilators of a steamer; circled around nets patterned like acre-large cobwebs; scaled the precipitous slopes of branching ceiling supports; and elbowed their way past sleeping monsters whose phosphoresent green lidless eyes seemed somehow malevolently aware. . . . his hands felt like bags of glue from contact with the sticky web-substance . . ."

Thus Dave Harrowell experiences the gargantuan tent city of the spidery Ugwugs in Under the Triple Suns, a forgotten tale praised by Damon Knight as an example of weird world-building.

Stanton Coblentz (1896-1982) once wore the mantle of sf's premier satirist. But he unfortunately exhibited a heavy prose style that weighed down his hijinx. This defect was offset by a fertile imagination for alien environments and a vivid presentation.

The last three survivors of humanity--Dave and Eunice Harrowell and Earle Henessey--flee to the stars. On the titular world, they encounter two races locked in Eloi-Morlock symbiosis: brutish Ugwug masters and wispy Lil-Bro slaves, both occupying the odd tentlike city of Harrowell's adventures. Naturally the humans enlist on the side of the slaves, eventually winning a tenuous freedom for the avian race.

Coblentz makes little of the Harrowells and Henessey being humanity's last procreative hope (although the group hug at the end has a bizarre sexual buzz). More potent is the undeniable anti-lynching riff Coblentz delivers. In the era of freedom-rider controversies, Coblentz's passions proved stronger than his art.

—Paul Di Filippo

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