by Jack Williamson


310pp/1940, expanded 1948

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Darker Than You Think began as a short story in the late and still lamented Unknown. Jack Williamson later took the story and expanded it to its current novel length a few years later. In this novel, Williamson looks at lycanthropy, werewolves, and attempts to present them in the scientifically rationalistic way which Unknown was known for. He tells his story from the viewpoint of Will Barbee, a failed anthropologist who is a newspaper reporter assigned to cover the return of his former colleagues from a two-year expedition in China.

Williamson’s characters, particularly his protagonist, do not act in rational manners. Barbee is fully aware of April Bell’s role in the murder of Barbee’s one-time mentor, LaMarck Mandrick, and her designs on his friends, nevertheless, he ignores the knowledge that his friends are in danger and is drawn to Bell’s side and her defense, even as he realizes that she does not deserve it.

While not quite so bad as to give all the information about a character the moment they are introduces, Williamson is somewhat heavy-handed on info-dumps, having lengthy explanatory passages about his characters as told by one character to another to give them background information. However, when the information matters, Williamson’s characters suddenly become very tight-lipped. Whenever a warning needs to be issued, Williamson makes sure that there is no way for the intended party to learn what they need to know before they are placed in danger.

Although it initially appears that the events are occurring exactly as Barbee recounts them, the reader quickly begins to question Barbee’s account. The deaths which he claims are due to attacks by werewolves and the supernatural could easily be explained, more easily, by natural events. In this regard, Darker Than You Think is reminiscent of L. Ron Hubbard’s contemporary novel, Fear.

Even while his characters fail to act in a rational manner, Williamson takes the time to provide a rationalistic explanation for the supernatural powers exhibited by his witches and lycanthropes. The events of the story, as Barbee alternately appears to protect and attack his friends, can be seen either as coincidences or the result of the supernatural forces which Barbee believes himself caught up in.

Williamson’s writing, nearly sixty years after Darker Than You Think was first published, has not dated particularly well. The characters are flat and their motives questionable. The setting never really comes alive and the style is dated. Nevertheless, the novel is written so the reader wants to discover the secrets that Williamson is hiding and the pace is quick enough that the reader will devour the novel out of curiosity, if nothing else.

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