“The Hunters” by Walt Sheldon
Startling Stories, March 1952
Samuel Mines, ed.
The Aliens invaded, conquered, killed…
it was their way
Well, here we are in 2022! Ain’t that just grand? It’s the year of Soylent Green, at least. You know, I heard a rumor about that stuff…
This is the second and final short story in this magazine issue. The only thing left is the novel by Henry Kuttner and a bunch of letters to the editor and articles and stuff that I’ll probably not do any reviews, of. That said, I did just see a letter they printed from Cpl. Grant C. Callaghan who wrote
Speaking of L. Ron Hubbard, I wonder if anyone could post me as to what he and the DIANETIC FOUNDATION are doing these days. The whole project seems to have gone up in smoke.
Well, Corporal, I hope you got the answer you were looking for. As for the editor, he reports that “many of its enthusiasts have had second thought [sic.]. The fans are out for blood, though.”
I’m also noticing as I flip through a couple of letters from women, or who at least have names I think of as feminine. I only bring this up because, well, our editor (Samuel Mines) never does. Never once a “don’t worry your pretty little head over it” or anything like that. I don’t know anything else about Mines—I think I’ll do some research later—but I’ll give him a little credit for that.
Today’s short is by a fellow named Walt Sheldon, of whom I can find very little information. The ISFDB has a page for him showing a number of short stories and one novel. They provide an outside link to a page discussing his mystery output, including one novel as Ellery Queen.
I was assuming based on all that that that this story would be another one that never got reprinted, but I was wrong! It’s had a number of compilation reprints, in fact, probably most notably in an Asimov collection of Fifty Short Science Fiction Tales that, if I’m reading this page right, seems to have itself gotten reprinted every year for a decade or so. So there’s a good chance that lots of people have read this one, although if they have, I wouldn’t blame them for not remembering it.
The story is very short but it’s descriptiveness is quite good. Sheldon does at least have a strong sense of urgency and doom and terror in this story, I’ll give him that. Everything else is pretty meh, including the twist ending that I’m pretty sure couldn’t have possibly been a twist to anybody even in TYOOL 1952.
Our POV characters are a married couple named Lon and Jeni.
And it was at this point when I knew what the twist was gonna be. I know you might not believe me, and that’s okay, I know what I know.
They’re on the run from aliens that have invaded and destroyed all the major cities. Things are pretty dire, and all the survivors are living in caves and trying their best to make do and survive. There’s no real indication of why they’re been invaded, whether for land or for resources or just from general dislike.
What we do learn is at least somewhat evocative. Lon and Jeni are running and occasionally, though the trees, Lon will get a glimpse of some kind of gigantic spaceship, as large as a city block, silvery and pointy. In my mind’s eye I could imagine it cinematically, with a shaky cam and stuff, like one of those movies where they don’t show you the monster except for glimpses, but in this case it’s Art Deco alien invaders. I like this idea and I’d kind of like to see it happen.
The story is barely two pages of two columns, I’m sure it would be about three pages in a paperback, maybe four. There’s not a lot of room for anything to happen, or for a lot of backstory. That’s fine. I think the sense of immediacy really helps, and for our protags to sit back and discuss the entire history of the invasion would have cost the story a great deal of what it actually had going for it.
Right at the end our couple is caught. They’re shot at and survive, but then the aliens catch up to them. Lon starts to rise up in anger, but Jeni stops him and says something about how he needn’t be angry, these aliens are just hunters, it’s their way, that’s just the way they are.
And then we get the wham line, which is one of the silliest ones I’ve ever read, even for a reveal as obvious as this one.
Lon stared back, taking in every strange detail. It was his first close look at one of these invaders from the planet called Earth, which was third from the sun and had one moon.pg 128
The bad guys were humans all along!??!? Holy crap!
I don’t know when that trope originated but I figure it’s not with this story, or I’d have stumbled across something saying so when I was doing some research.
The thing is, I’m not especially upset at the story for having that ending. I honestly think it’s a pretty good ending to throw at people, especially after you’ve gotten them feeling a little bit sympathetic to the characters. It’s a little glimpse at colonialism or even genocide from the victims’ point of view in a way that probably wouldn’t work if it were two sets of humans. Imagine a story about someone surviving the invasion of their country and subjugation at the hands of the oppressors, who are later revealed to be the United States. Certain kinds of people would lose their shit, which might be all the more reason to actually sit down and write that story. But if you can rope them in with some aliens and some humans who are not explicitly US Americans but c’mon, let’s face it, you know they are, then maybe you can put a dent in that jingo armor. Maybe.
What upsets me is the way our author chose to do the reveal. It’s entirely too much.
“from the planet called Earth…”
And then our author sits back at the typewriter and thinks, could this be too vague? He starts typing again.
“which was third from the sun…”
Hmm, no, I’m afraid they still won’t get it. That could be any Earth.
“and had one moon.”
Yeah, frickin’ nailed it. Nobody’s gonna miss the message of this story.
I mean, just about any other author worth their salt would have ended it with something more like, “and then Lon noticed, with all six of his eyes, that the person about to kill him had only two eyes, and ears on the side of his head, and what was that thing sticking out of the middle of its face? Humans were so ugly!”
I’ll be honest, that’s just about all I’ve got to complain about, though. The story up to then was at least fair, with some solid enough writing. Nothing special.
So what I’m saying is that this is an extra short review! See y’all next time, and Happy New Year!