The Eye and the Finger (Donald Wandrei) Review
The Eye and the Finger is a collection of macabre science fiction tales and horror tales (published by Arkham House in 1944) that compares--in terms of its quality and power--to the anthologies I own by H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith (my favorite weird fiction writer).
In this long (344 pages) collection of tales, Donald Wandrei displays his many gifts, which are quite different from those Lovecraft or Smith. Whereas Lovecraft excelled in atmospheric tales told in a baroque manner that often culminated in the partial revelation of an implied horror, and Smith painted unsurpassably gorgeous and eldritch imagery with his prose, Donald Wandrei is a clear master of ingenious plotting, where each tale gets more interesting and creative with each turn.
It is hard to imagine a reader guessing the trajectory of his excellent horror tales The Tree People of M'Bwe or The Nerveless Man, both of which made me physically shudder. And the cautionary tale entitled, It Will Grow On You, actually made me wince. When Wandrei does straight (weird) horror, things get nasty and intense.
The major part of this collection is devoted to macabre science fiction or melancholic science fiction, but unlike a lot of the stuff I've read from this era, most of the Wandrei tales have some real scientific underpinnings, even if some of these are no longer accurate (read: "ether"). Readers familiar with CAS's ultra weird forays in sci-fi (A Star-Change & The Eternal World) will have a good reference point, though Wandrei's work is more physics oriented and a lot more humanistic.
Included in this book are a quest for fundamental particles (Earth Minus), general cosmology and cosmogeny, as well as a rudimentary musing on quantum states (Finality Unlimited). Many of these science fiction stories have a macabre or horrific tone and very thoughtfully conceived aliens/otherworldly elements-- The Crystal Bullet would be a perfect companion piece for HPL's The Colour Out of Space, and The Monster from Nowhere reads like the best 50s sci-fi movie never made.
Additionally, Wandrei clearly has more interest in writing about human beings and facing mortality in a genuine manner than do most weird fiction writers, and his dialogue is often sharp and dry (esp. It Will Grow on You). As I said, the guy is versatile.
The only reason this book, which contains approximately 220 pages of very good to masterful material, does not get my highest rating is because the first story is not good, the second story (which gives its name to the collection) is silly, the longest story (Finality Unlimited) has a ridiculous set-up (and is at least 30 pages too long), and The Witch-Makers (also a long one) is dull and repetitive. These tales combine to about 120 pages of okay to below par material--- too much to ignore.
Still, this anthology proves that Wandrei is an amazing and versatile talent. His best horror stories will make you shudder like those of Lovecraft or Blackwood, and the grandness of his science fiction stories--some of which do not have people or characters--are often in scale with Greg Bear or Arthur C. Clarke.
On top of this, the collection has some short and lush prose poems, including The Woman at the Window, which is just a gorgeous little jewel. And WOW, Wandrei's uncommonly chilling horror science fiction tale Black Fog is simply one of the best short stories I've ever read.