Sunday, September 26, 2010

Within His Reach by Steve Gerlach

This novella is dedicated to the memory of Rod Serling (writer and creator of The Twilight Zone), and it shows. Within His Reach is a quaint little story, hearkening back to the film-noir days of the 1950s when American towns were a picturesque realm of suited, cynical attitudes against the backdrop of a black and white visual style. But underlying this hardboiled world’s glossy surface is also the propaganda beneath: that what lies on top is merely an illusion authorities want us to believe …

At this time in history, polio is an epidemic sweeping the nation, and Arnold Enright is one of the poor unfortunates to lose everything he holds dear to a disease regulating you to the mechanical prison of living in an iron lung. Told in first person narration, this is where the story picks up, and Gerlach does a good job conveying the despondency of the disease. When Arnold decides to go ahead with radical surgery and subsequently wakes up in his home town of Hope Springs a whole man, his elation soon turns to despair when he realizes the town is empty and everything has the drab quality of a nightmare. Was the surgery a success? Is he merely dreaming? Why does everything he touch vanish into non-existence? Despite the world around him falling apart yet again, Arnold goes in search of the wife who abandoned him and the daughter he’s never met.

Here, Gerlach has given himself the task of translating the The Twilight Zone ambiance into a literary format, and for the most part, he succeeds; reading, we can almost hear the show’s soundtrack in the background – can almost anticipate an intermission when events fracture into pure slippage. But I also had the feeling this is a short story stretched like taffy into the length of a novella. As I whole, I think it might have benefited from being sluiced down to half the word count … and made an enjoyable read even more palatable to fans of science fiction noir. A small quibble in an otherwise engaging story.

The Australian small Press Tasmaniac Publications have done a beautiful job with this edition, and though copies might still be available elsewhere, it seems to have sold out in its current incarnation. Tasmaniac have a reputation for glossy, imaginative illustrations, and Within His Reach is no exception. It also contains a nostalgic and original foreword by legendary writer William F. Nolan entitled The Twilight Years.