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The Flying Eyes

The Flying Eyes by J. Hunter HollyThe Flying Eyes front
Monarch Books, 1962
Price I paid: none

Linc Hosler was sitting in a packed football stadium when the Flying Eyes appeared and cast their hypnotic power over half the crowd. Thousands of people suddenly began marching zombie-like into the woods where they vanished into a black pit.

Linc used every resource of the Space Research Lab and the National Guard to destroy the Eyes. But nothing could stop them, for they proved immune to bullets and bombs.

In desperation, Linc captured an Eye and found a way to communicate with it through his mind. He learned that radiation was fuel for the creatures’ lives. And then they issued their terrible ultimatum: Explode a series of atom bombs to supply them with radiation or they would turn the world’s population into mindless robots!

It gave the world two harrowing choices—self-destruction via fallout from the bombs or annihilation via the sinister Flying Eyes…

This book was a gift from my friend’s mom who found it in a used book store in San Francisco and brought it back to me because she heard I read this kind of stuff. She brought me back a whole stack of books to torture me, and so I’ve decided to start into that stack with this one because just look at that cover.

I mean, look at it. I love this cover. It tells you everything you need to know. There are eyes flying around and they are probably up to no good. Either that or people are afraid of them because the eyes are misunderstood. All they really want to do is watch. In your private moments. Is that so much to ask?

Well, it turns out that the eyes are not especially benign, so the panicking contorting people are justified in their panicked contortions.

I assumed when I opened the book that this cover would be more symbolic than anything, if indeed it’s actually based on the text at all. Surely, I thought, the eyes wouldn’t be literally eyes, or at least if they were they’d be eyeballs and not have things like eyelashes and eyelids and tear ducts. But nope, wrong again.

Our protagonist for this story is Lincoln “Linc” Hosler, who, when we first meet him, is epically friendzoned. This girl, Kelly, gets him to fetch her coffee and hot dogs and stuff while she stays behind to flirt with Linc’s roommate and only true friend, Wes. Linc is all jealous about this, although Wes assures him that nothing is going on between him and Kelly, so maybe he should just man up and either say something to this girl or just get rid of her. Well, he doesn’t put it that way, but that’s how I feel about the situation. You put yourself in the friend zone, guys.

Linc and Wes have a little heart-to-heart about this little problem. They’re at a football game while all this is going on, incidentally. The game is between “State” and “Away Team.” Wes points out that Kelly isn’t really all that interested in either of them, she just keeps them around because they’re both good to her in different ways. Linc goes off and gets her things while Wes is funny and charming enough to keep her entertained. This is all very interesting and all that, so I was very upset when the titular flying eyes showed up.

Just kidding. I’m pretty sure my interest in this book was saved by the insane weird crap that started happening, oh, right around page four. It just jumped right into the action after making me completely sure that this was going to be a teen romance novel.

One interesting thing about this Kelly situation, though, is that it becomes pretty clear off the bat that she’s really a conniving little lady who is using these two men and playing them off each other for her own entertainment. At first I assumed all this was because the author had a bit of a grudge to bring forward into his writing, but then I realized that this J. Hunter Holly isn’t a he, she’s a she. So what’s going on here? About half of this novel is just juvenile lady-worship from a sad sack of a man. It seems a lot more like something I’d write.

Then again, this book is attributed to a person with a sexless initial instead of a female first name and it came out in 1962. I get the feeling that some publisher told her to write more like a man if she expected to sell any books. Maybe I’m way off base, but that’s my take on the matter. You can see that kind of thing all over the place in sixties sci-fi. I’m pretty sure D.C. Fontana had to sell quite a few Star Trek scripts before she allowed Dorothy to appear on any of them.

Anyway, back to the story. The eyes attack! It’s horrifying! They just swoop out of the sky and all these people start panicking and running away and all that stuff. A little girl gets her face stepped on. That was made pretty explicitly clear. It’s gruesome and pretty lifelike in the way these people panic.

Of course, our heroes don’t really panic all that much. Wes is shaken, Kelly is pretty much broken because she’s a woman I guess, but Linc is going into full-on scientist mode.

See, that’s what he is. He works at a lab with a nuclear reactor or something and a large part of the book is people telling him to break down the walls of science and logic and let some people into his life. He loves Kelly in his own way, and Wes is pretty much his only friend, but really he just comes across as heartless a lot of the time. People, on the whole, don’t like him, but that’s okay because he doesn’t especially like them.

Oh, this lab also contains a department I choose to call the Anton Chekhov Memorial Artificial Gravity Laboratory. You might say it comes up.

The book kind of slows down for a while at this point. The eyes are turning people into zombies and leading them into a hole in the forest. Wes and Linc are trying to figure out what’s causing this. It’s some kind of hypnosis, they decide. In the meantime, people are trying to shoot the eyes out of the sky to no avail. They just Wolverine themselves back to full health and continue about their day. One of the only things that proves useful is tear gas. It’ll disable the eyes for a while, especially their hypnotic powers, because they have to be looking at a person to use them.

In the meantime there’s a lot of soap opera back and forth stuff between our little love triangle. Linc finally breaks down and tells Kelly he loves her and she throws it back in his face. He and Linc have a few more heart-to-hearts where Wes explains that Linc really needs to be more of a human being if he wants to get this girl. It’s all very tedious.

Somebody finally figures out that if we want to learn what’s up with these eye things we’re going to need to get ahold of one and study it. The tear gas comes in handy here when Linc and Wes find an eye, gas it to hell, and throw a net over it and stick it in a cage. No fuss, no muss. They take it back to the lab and just…sort of…stare at it.

I guess the application of science in this book is a little more realistic than in a lot of science fiction. They don’t immediately just cut it open or anything, which wouldn’t have worked anyway because these things have healing powers.

Meanwhile, people are really starting to panic. The eyes are localized in Nameless Town, so the world doesn’t seem to be especially affected by them, but the panic is building out of control. Shops and homes are being broken into, people are trying to flee the town (and being rounded up by the eyes in the process), and Kelly decides she’ll stay with Linc and Wes where she can be safe. Cue suspicious looks and some kind of musical outro.

Linc learns that the eyes’ hypnosis can be resisted and so comes up with a plan. He or Wes (a great deal of time is spent deciding which one will finally do this) will build up their immunity to the hypnosis and go into that hole in the forest and see what’s up. Not a bad plan, I guess. Knowledge is half the power.

Arguments are sent back and forth. Wes wants to go, but Linc also wants to go. Linc thinks he’s more capable of resisting the eyes, Wes thinks that’s what makes him so much more irreplaceable. It goes on, and on, and on, for pages. Finally, Kelly comes up to Linc and puts the moves on him. She’s come around, she says, and now Linc is her big strong science man in science armor and would he please protect her. Linc, like the spineless dope he is, sends Wes.

The book never explicitly says this, but I think there was some kind of commentary in there about Kelly’s hypnotic sex power over Linc and the eyes’ power over most people. They both alternate between complete control and outright panic, for one. Maybe I’m reading too much into that. It never really comes up again.

Wes leaves and doesn’t come back for several days. Meanwhile Linc is all consumed in guilt because he basically sent off his friend to die so he could have Kelly all to himself, so he becomes distant again and she gets all mad at him. She keeps telling him about how much they’ve both grown in this crisis and that’s what made her fall in love with him finally, but I think both Linc and I are a bit skeptical at this point.

Wes does come back, though! A bunch of zombies come marching back out of the hole into town. Their brains are blasted, they’re barely even people anymore. Wes is one of them. They’re all just soaked in radiation. They take the husk that was Wes home so that he can die in peace. It gets really maudlin. Wes had a dog, folks.

Linc decides that the smartest thing for him to do would be to go down in this hole and see what’s down there for himself. It’s not like his only friend in the world was just killed by it, after all. Snark aside, this bit is actually kind of touching. It wasn’t until Wes died that Linc found out what it meant to have an actual friend in the world. Now even that’s gone and Linc feels like he has to atone. It’s not very smart, but I felt like it was pretty human.

Linc doesn’t die. He gets down into the hole and sees…things. There’s what is probably a spaceship as well as hideous creatures that are not in any way like humans except, I guess, for the eyes. One of the things Linc sees is a flying eye come down to one of these creatures, shrink down to size, and plop right into this thing’s empty eye socket. A bit confused and a lot horrified, Linc leaves.

The rest of the book turns out to be mostly exposition. Knowing that there’s an intelligence behind all this stuff, Linc sets out to communicate with it. He stares at the eye in the lab until they reach some kind of rapport, and the eye explains everything to him.

They are the Zine. They evolved on a tiny rock that was almost entirely radioactive. They eat radiation. Their rock ran out of radiation so they flew around in space until they found more radiation. What they found was Earth. Presumably the radiation was emanating from millions of Cold War moralizing science fiction stories.

Yeah, they want to eat our bombs. But they can’t just eat them. They have to eat the fallout. So what they want is for humanity to get so fed up with them that they drop a bunch of nukes on the eyes so they can eat. It’s not actually a bad plan.

It goes on for a while, and really helps set them up as a menace that isn’t entirely evil, necessarily, but haughty and proud and powerful but also scared. They’re dying, no two ways about it, and they need us to sacrifice ourselves so they can survive. The Zine don’t see anything wrong with this any more than humans might wipe out whole species on our own planet so that we have room to spread out and survive.

If this were a Star Trek episode I’m sure the day would have been solved when Captain Kirk seduced something and shot something else. If it were a Next Generation episode then Picard would have ordered Geordi and Data to come up with some way of getting these guys the radiation they need so they can live without endangering humanity.

The book resolves in a Star Trek way, but it also involved tricking the Zines into thinking it was a Next Generation way.

Remember the Artificial Gravity Laboratory? Well, at some point it was revealed that the Zines don’t much dig our gravity. Fighting it takes up quite a bit of their energy and they are barely able to survive by absorbing the Earth’s natural radiation to sustain themselves. So Linc basically says to them that we found a way to keep you fed indefinitely and also save ourselves, which is important because the author caught a potentially disastrous plothole. If we nuke ourselves to oblivion so you guys can eat, who will set off more nukes for you to eat? Derp. The Zines agree to this obvious non-trap.

They allow themselves to be transported to the Artificial Gravity Lab where “food” is waiting for them as, I assume, U-238 rods. Instead, the science guys kick the gravity up to five gees, killing the Zines and saving the world.

Linc then realizes how much he’s grown as a person, assumes that Kelly has also done so, and they get married. The End.

This was actually a pretty good story, even if it did have a ridiculous premise. Holly’s author bio makes a big deal out of her psychology degree, and I’m going to assume she put it to good use in this book. The characters actually feel like people most of the time, albeit really flawed and unlikable people. And that’s okay. Our viewpoint character generally views most people as flawed and unlikable. What makes it interesting is just how little he sees of himself in that attitude. He grows a bit, though, and even learns to like dogs.

The aliens themselves really took a backseat to the human drama, and that’s the kind of story I tend to like. The fact that the enemies were giant flying eyes that could detach from their Zine bodies is really secondary to how people react to them. There were some dull bits where it seemed like I was going to end up reading a script for a late-season episode of Friends (“That One with the Flying Eyes”) but it came through.

Joan Holly died at the relatively young age of fifty in 1982. That’s a real shame. This book was a pretty early one in her bibliography, and I’d like to see where she went with her writing.

Also, I want to point out that eye horror is the worst possible kind of horror for me. I can’t stand thinking of anything having to do with injured eyes. I can’t even stand thinking about touching eyes. I can’t wear contacts.

This book was absolutely horrifying.

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3 Comments

  1. emarandzeb says:

    Gritty modern adaptation of “The Flying Eyes” featuring that one campus cop just casually strolling by and pepper-spraying the eyeballs into submission, this becoming the savior of humanity.

    Like

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