Thursday, July 3, 2014

Book Review: In Search of the Unknown by Robert W. Chambers

     Parodies are not new things. They’ve been going on since forever. If something ridiculous happens, people will make fun of it, even if that something ridiculous is fictional. Even more so, because if it is ridiculous that means an author actually thought it was a good idea for some bizarre reason. (See: Twilight.) This doesn’t mean parodies outright reject the source material. Jane Austen gleefully mocked Gothic novels, but in her letters she made it clear she enjoyed them.

     In Search of the Unknown is so ridiculous, so over the top, that I am convinced Chambers was simply parodying the adventure and sci-fi novels of his time period. The book follows the protagonist Mr. Gilland, a zoologist in New York, as he searches for fantastic and strange creatures-much like a modern day cryptozoologist. He runs into various colorful characters, several strange creatures, and some very pretty girls that easily wrap him around their little fingers.

     The first story sees Gilland heading out to a far place in Canada, where a cranky old man insists he has great auks…oh, and a fish-man has been following his pretty nurse around. Gilland tries to keep his focus on the great auks (that apparently exist in this story), but can’t help but notice a strange figure creeping around the bay…

     In the second story, Gilland races to discover a fantastic primeval world, all while being hounded by his new employer, an old lady he mistakenly insulted and who will never let him live it down. Also, she has a pretty assistant. This had some genuinely creepy moments, the kind Chambers is so well known for, but it naturally ends on humorous note.

     Next, Gilland comes to the aid of a brilliant pretty scientist who insists she is hatching some Ux eggs. Slapstick hilarity ensues.

     The last story becomes very long and involved, as Gilland travels to Florida with a pretty stenographer to aid his old employer Farrago in finding invisible people living in the woods who have a deep fondness for pie. This one drags on, because after Gilland and the pretty stenographer have set out for home, they find a strange man who tells them several stories about his own odd adventures. Giant birds, aunts who turn into cats, and mental and physical teleportation, the stories get sillier and sillier until we get to the end, where Gilland realizes his only companion, really, is SCIENCE!

     It’s Chambers-style weird, with a very bizarre sense of humor. Get it here in a variety of formats from Project Gutenberg.

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