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Filet of Sohl
The Classic Scripts and Stories of Jerry Sohl

Jerry Sohl
(edited by Christopher Conlon)

Bear Manor Media, 261 pages

John Teehan
Filet of Sohl
Jerry Sohl

Jerry Sohl (2/12/1913-4/11/2002), born in Los Angeles and having grown up in Chicago, was a successful if not greatly acclaimed science fiction, fantasy and mystery writer. He worked as a photographer, police reporter, critic and reviewer for several Midwest papers after World War II. During the war, he served in the Army Air Forces. A prolific author of novels (Costigan's Needle, Point Ultimate), he is perhaps best known for his teleplays for the Twilight Zone, Star Trek, The Outer Limits and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Sohl was also the author of the acclaimed mainstream work The Lemon Eaters. He also wrote under the pseudonyms Nathan Butler, Sean Mei Sullivan and Roberta Jean Mountjoy. Sohl was a member of the so-called Southern California Group which included such luminaries as Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont.

Bibliography: 1, 2
Book Review:
The Transcendent Man -- cover

Commentary on Jerry Sohl
Bear Manor Media Publishing

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

Filet of Sohl contains seven short stories from the early 50s which were to form part of a projected but never published 1959 paperback collection of the same name, along with its never before published introduction by Sohl himself. Another three more modern (70s-90s) short stories are also included along with two previously unknown scripts, bought but never produced for The Twilight Zone, and a previously unpublished script from Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

The early short stories, some fifty years old now, while they are certainly dated in a number of ways are still fairly entertaining. By far the best are "Counterweight" on the use of a deliberately introduced psychological stimulus to maintain order within a population of colonists embarked upon a long interplanetary voyage, while "Death in Transit" is a lovely poignant tale of a sleeper ship's captain whose loss of his wife he ultimately cannot overcome. Other less exceptional tales include: "The Seventh Order," a tale somewhat reminiscent of (though predating) John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos (the basis of the film Village of the Damned), while "Trefelgen's Ring" tells of a ring which grants unconscious wishes to the wearer. "The Invisible Enemy" tells of an invisible enemy picking off the members of a space ship crew on a remote planet, while "Brknk's Bounty" tells of a man saved from booze and unemployment by an alien's endocrine "gift."

The two "lost" Twilight Zone scripts, "Pattern for Doomsday" and "Who Am I" follow the genre to the letter, ending with the prescribed twist. In "Pattern for Doomsday" a crew must be chosen to escape an Earth decimated by a virulent plague and preserve human kind. Naturally, some people will do anything to get on the ship. The latter story, "Who Am I" is more of psychological study of a particular madness, the impression that one's face has been changed. Neither, had they been produced, would likely have become classic episodes, nor would they have been amongst the worst. Similarly the plot summary for the unproduced Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode, "Wife Errant," is one along the lines of the many suspicious/jealous spouse that murders their partner, only to discover their mistake afterwards stories.

The remaining more recent stories are rather unremarkable. However, the interest of Filet of Sohl is to a greater degree in the reminiscences of remaining South California Group members William F. Nolan, George Clayton Johnson, and Richard Matheson, along with Sohl's two children Allan and Jennifer. These flesh out the character of who Jerry Sohl was, what he sought to achieve in writing, what his successes and frustrations were. It also becomes a sort of historical document, preserving an era and elements of a literary movement of sorts, which might otherwise disappear. Certainly for the Twilight Zone completist, or for the person studying the works of the Group, this will be essential material. Otherwise, while a couple of the short stories do stand out, the majority of the fare in Filet of Sohl is rather ordinary, without doubt competent, but just not very remarkable.

Copyright © 2004 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.

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