Hellhounds of the Cosmos
By Clifford D. Simak
Published by LibriVox
Read by Phil Chenevert
This story was written very early in Simak’s career (1932) and I must say the title is terrible. Seriously, this is a genuine “B Movie” grade title. The story would probably make a B Movie grade movie too when you get right down to it, but aside from the title, I found the story interesting enough. In fact even though this was one of Simak’s first, it is still classic Simak. And, yes, with a title like that, I did have to read the story…
So forget the title, which he had to justify by slipping into the text somewhere or else it really would have had nothing to do with the story. Something terrible is happening all over Earth. It is being called “The Black Horror.” It is killing people all over the world and there seems to be no defense against is until a scientist discovers the Horror is an invasion from the “Fourth Dimension.”
Yeah, okay, perhaps that should have been from a “Four Dimensional Universe,” but heck the story was written in 1932 when notions Quantum Physics were not as fully developed or as popularly known as they are today. 1932, when many people still thought evolution was progressive. 1932, before nuclear weapons, World War II and public television. When you get right down to it, this story was well ahead of its time.
I should mention, however, that Simak made no attempt to make the “Fourth Dimension” truly four dimensional. It was just another world in which each being was a conglomeration of an entire Third Dimensional world’s population… well, potentially at least. Still an interesting concept even if it got lost in the early science fiction lingo.
Anyway, our scientist, having discovered just where the Horror is coming from, builds a machine that can project someone from our dimension into the Fourth Dimension, which he tests with various animals, who return somewhat worse for wear emotionally, so naturally the next step is to send men there to fight the Horror on its home ground. So he sends ninety-eight soldiers and one newspaper reporter (because you need a reporter in every war? Actually the reporter insisted on going, he was not part of the plan). Once there they discover that while they were ninety-nine people in our dimension, they were all extensions of a single fourth dimensional entity.
Then commences a battle that today would have been the basis for a successful video game and two powerful being fight each other. The other one, whose extensions (minions?) are the Horror is weakened since so much of himself is in the Third Dimension, so a mere ninety-nine can form a creature of roughly equal power. The battle goes back and forth as the bad guy summons his minions back from Earth and as more humans volunteer to fight.
It is an interesting take on extra dimensional existence and while the science is totally laughable by modern standards, it is still an entertaining story.
Phil Chenovert has a vocal mannerism that sometimes sets me on edge and sometimes suits the story perfectly. It sounds like he is talking out of only one side of his mouth… not sure that means anything, but it’s the best description I can come up with. He does the voices of a hard-bitten cynical reporter marvelously and since that is the character whose point of view this story is told from, that might be just the sort of voice that works for this story. However, since this story is not told in the first person, I think he could have read the narrative portions in a more neutral tone. It came off at times as almost sing-song in tone. I could almost sway to the vocal waves as they came at me – not a good thing when driving, by the way, but this sort of folksy story telling is something I know many listeners love.
He did better in part of the story that takes place in the “Fourth Dimension,” although Mister Chenovert sometimes uses what I call “Funny voices” to differentiate characters some of the dialogue portions, especially in the Fourth Dimension were annoying. However, all told I have heard much worse and Phil Chenovert is, all-in-all a pretty good reader.
Summary: “Hellhounds of the Cosmos” is silly name for a serious and thought-provoking story which Phil Chenovert reads in a colorful and frequently engaging manner that, I think, many should enjoy.