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Dark Universe
William F. Nolan
William F. Nolan
Stealth Press, 470 pages (2001)

Popular Library, 158 pages (1963)

Dark Universe IMPACT-20
William F. Nolan

Born in 1928 in Kansas City, Missouri, where he later attended the Kansas City Art Institute, William F. Nolan began his career as an artist for Hallmark Cards. He moved to California in the late 1940s and studied at San Diego State College. He began concentrating on writing rather than art and, in 1952, was introduced by Ray Bradbury to another young up-and-coming author, Charles Beaumont. Moving to the Los Angeles area in 1953, Nolan became, along with Beaumont, Bradbury, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, Chad Oliver, Ray Russell, Jerry Sohl, and John Tomerlin, amongst others, part of the "inner core" of the soon-to-be highly influential "Southern California Group" of writers. By 1956 Nolan was a full-time writer. Since 1951 he has sold more than 1500 stories, articles, books, and other works.

William F. Nolan is best known as the co-author (with George Clayton Johnson) of Logan's Run -- a science fiction novel that went on to become a movie, a television series and is about to become a movie again -- and as the single author of its sequels Logan's World and Logan's Search. His short stories have been selected for scores of anthologies and textbooks and he is twice winner of the Edgar Allan Poe Special Award from the Mystery Writers of America.

The author of How to Write Horror Fiction, Nolan has edited more than two dozen books in the fields of science fiction, horror, westerns, and suspense. His most recent anthology (with William Schafer) is California Sorcery: A Group Celebration.

Nolan is also a biographer and historian who has authored biographical and bibliographical books on Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, John Huston, Phil Hill and Barney Oldfield, Ernest Hemingway, Steve McQueen and Dashiell Hammett. He combined his expertise in pulp-era hard-boiled detectives and authors with his fiction skills to write a series of mysteries with three famed private-eye authors -- Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Erle Stanley Gardner -- solving crimes as the Black Mask Boys.

As a writer for films and television, Nolan is credited with screenplays on Burnt Offerings and Terror at London Bridge. He has also worked on 25 "Movies of the Week," including The Turn of The Screw, Trilogy of Terror and its sequel, Bridge Across Time.

Nolan has lectured widely, taught a creative writing seminar at Bowling Green State University, and appeared on countless panels and in discussions at conventions.

Stealth Press
Official homepage of William F. Nolan
Stealth Press site for William F. Nolan

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (in French), 7 (in French), 8 (in Spanish), 9 (in Greek)

Re: James Dean at High Speed

William F. Nolans's Logan: A Trilogy
Down the Long Night
The Black Mask Murders
The Black Mask Murders (in French)

Things Beyond Midnight
California Sorcery
California Sorcery (Swedish ed.)
Max Brand: Western Giant. The Life and Times of Frederick Schiller Faust

Logan's Run sites: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 (in French), 12 (in French), 13 (in French), 14 (in German)

Essay on Erle Stanley Gardner

IFSDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds


To go directly to the Dark Universe review, click here

Impact-20 and Dark Universe (contents listed below) represent the alpha and the omega of William F. Nolan's short story output in book form. Impact-20, a 1963 paperback original, with an introduction by no less than Ray Bradbury, was Nolan's first genre book publication and reflects the influence of his association with the famous southern California writers' group centred around his close friend Charles Beaumont. Unlike Dark Universe, Impact-20, slated for reissue in hardcover from Gauntlet Press next year, is neither a best-of collection, nor a collection of exclusively horror tales. For example, Nolan, Beaumont and John Tomerlin were all avid car racing fans. The humorous tale "The Martians and the Leadfoot" shows how space aliens faced with a race car driver spewing such 50s "shop talk" as:

"Man, she handles like I carried my own set of rails. Bat her down the chute, drift the dogleg, whomp her through the chicane, climb on the binders, snap a downshift and crack her round the hairpin with your tootsie in the carbs."
draw somewhat extravagant conclusions about the advancement of human technology. Similarly, other humorous tales including the very dated "The Amazon Kick," and "The Darenlinger Buildup" (with Deceivo-bosoms!), which obviously originated in men's magazines of the era, but which interestingly appear to draw from Nolan's personal experiences in the Hollywood writers' milieu, are there too.

The horror tales (some with SF settings) tend to fall in two categories, (i) suspense tales with murders and killers at different points on the sanity scale, and (ii) weird tales with a twist, in the Twilight Zone tradition, more subtly atmospheric than the suspense tales. A great exchange of ideas occurred within The California Group, so it isn't surprising that these authors' styles and subject matter rubbed off on each other. The excellent "The Small World of Lewis Stillman" (a.k.a. "The Underdweller" in Dark Universe) is a tale with clear parallels to Richard Matheson's earlier I Am Legend; "The Joy of Living" about an android wife has parallels with Bradbury's "I Sing the Body Electric"; the psychotic serial murderer stories like "In the Lion's Den" and "Dark Encounter" have parallels with Robert Bloch's similar novel-length tales.

The horror in Nolan's early horror tales has no supernatural elements, non-human monsters or development of atmosphere for the sake of atmosphere, as in the Algernon Blackwood style. Like Matheson, Nolan's writing is sparse and concise, with the story stripped down to the essentials, reflecting a movie script terseness. This makes for fairly short short stories (an average of 7 pages each in Impact-20) which read quickly. While the Twilight Zone-ish stories tend to have more meat to them, they too never seem padded or drawn out for effect.

Dark Universe is most interesting, besides the fact that it presents the best work of a top notch modern horror writer, because it presents the stories in chronological order, each with an introductory blurb from Nolan himself. Besides reminding us that many of these stories have been included in best of the year anthologies and much anthologized elsewhere, Nolan explains the genesis of many of the stories: long bus rides cross country ("The Ceremony"), dreams ("Lonely Train A' Comin'"), Richard Matheson's backyard ("The Pool"), a visit to a wax museum ("Stoner"). This temporal sequence also allows one to see where Nolan's horror writing has taken him, how, as Christopher Conlon suggests in his introduction "'The Waiting, Windless Dark': William F. Nolan's Universe," Nolan has moved beyond The California Group's influence to claim a voice all his own.

This has taken him, in stories like "The Pool" and "Lonely Train A' Comin'," an excellent tale of a living, breathing and carnivorous train, to where good ol' drooly, icky monsters supply the suspense and horror, not just the strictly realistic monsters within human society. While he has continued to write of these latter monsters (see contents below), his storytelling techniques have evolved from the standard 50s "let's spend a day inside the mind of a psycho" to more original plotting devices like the meeting of parallel stories which occurs in "Him, Her, Them," or the police evidence inventory of "The Francis File." Clearly Nolan hasn't been sitting in one spot, resting on his laurels for these 50 years of writing. Science fictional elements continue to be present, though never as the primary genre. Nolan even throws in a little Lovecraftian nugget in "Ceremony," which he pulls off rather well, sending the hapless protagonist to the remote hamlet of Doour's Mill, albeit without using "eldritch" or "tintinnabulation." Other stories, like the excellent "The Party" still maintain remnants of the Twilight Zone genre. "Major Prevue Here Tonight" and "On Harper's Road," while good horror tales in their own right, have a certain degree of Bradbury-ness which adds to their power -- Nolan certainly could have chosen few better to emulate in these stories. Nolan has even done a few somewhat experimental stories, the evocative, if plotless, "Vympyre," the drying reminiscences of a millennia-old vampire, and the semi-autobiographical "Kelly, Frederic Michael," this time the dying remembrances of a beleaguered spaceman.

With a whopping 41 tales by Nolan, Dark Universe is an excellent retrospective of his work -- perhaps a bit obsessive about killers hired, serial and/or psychotic, and certainly not in the atmospheric horror genre -- it reads quickly and easily, as the works of the California Group generally do, but still packs a good punch. Certainly, if you been raised in the Stephen King era of horror, this is your kind of material, and lots of it. With Impact-20, you have a book that was released the month president Kennedy was assassinated; you can't expect something that doesn't reflect the reality of the time.

Copyright © 2002 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.

Table of Contents
Story Title Collection Genre
Impact-20 Dark Universe Androids Cars and car racing Dark near-future Humour Murder or violent death Hired/
Psychotic killer
Twilight-zonish Hollywood writer's life Monsters & other old standards
A Good Day

An Act of Violence

And Miles to Go Before I Sleep

The Amazon Kick

At Diamond Lake

Babe's Laughter

The Beautiful Doll Caper




The Cure

The Darenlinger Buildup

Dark Encounter

Dead Call

Death Double


The End with No Perhaps

Fair Trade

A Final Stone

The Francis File


Full Quota

Fyodor's Law

The Giant Man

Gobble, Gobble!

The Halloween Man

Heart's Blood

He Kilt It With a Stick

Him, Her, Them

In the Lion's Den

The Joy of Living

Kelly, Fredric Michael

The Lap of the Primitive

Lonely Train A'Comin'

Major Prevue Here Tonight

The Martians and the Leadfoot

My Name is Dolly

Nobody, That's Who

Of Time and Texas

One of Those Days

On 42nd St.

On Harper's Road

The Partnership

The Party


The Pool

The Public Loves a Johnny

A Real Nice Guy

Saturday's Shadow

The Small World of Lewis Stillman
a.k.a. The Underdweller

Something Nasty



To Serve the Ship


The Visit


The Yard

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