The Thing in the Attic
By James B. Blish
Two Editions Published by Librivox
Read by Phil Chenovert and Greg Margaritte
Hell is for Heretics. In this case Hell is at ground level and all the people are living in the tree tops, or rather in a very large and towering canopy of tree tops. When someone is convicted of a serious crime, they are sentenced to Hell and given a lift down to the surface of their planet in a basket. Yep, they go to Hell in a hand-basket… sort of.
Sentences are not technically for life. In fact, none are permanent. However, no matter how short or long a sentence is, no one has ever returned from Hell. Ever. We learn all this as our central characters are being lowered gently to the surface of the planet for the grave heresy of disbelieving in the giants who supposedly created the world and the people on it. On reaching ground level the convicts are required to leave the basket and when the do the basket will be raised back up. The basket will not be lowered for them again until their sentence is up. Should any survive they’ll be welcome back. Cold comfort, indeed, considering their chances of survival.
That’s is when one of their number is so desperate he attempts to climb back up the rope above the basket as it is raised back into the canopy. He is killed for violating his sentence, or=f course, but he tries none the less. The rest of the party must find a way to survive and when some of them, by luck and ability do survive they learn the truth about their world, its history and its future.
For a short story, there is a fair amount of meat on this one and depending on how many similar stories you may have read, there might just be a few surprises. I know my first guess as to where it was going was completely wrong, but I did enjoy the ride.
Sometimes it is fun to listen to different readings of the same story, but while their styles are completely different I enjoyed listening to both Phil Chenovert and Greg Margaritte as they read this story. Whether it was Mister Chenovert’s light, quasi-sarcastic style or Mister Margaritte’s syrupy basso, the story was an enjoyable experience for which one must give at least as much credit to the readers as the author.
In some ways this is a tale typical of its time. There were a lot of stories that explored similar themes, but this one holds up and remains interesting for both its content and entertainment value and both readers bring it to life.