The first appearances of the novels in the editions that comprise THE FANTASTIC FICTION OF HANNES BOK
EXCERPTS & REVIEWS
THE SORCERER'S SHIP
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 1
THE NIGHTMARE ENDED, BUT the rocking sensation persisted. There was a curious glassy sound, like the clinking of many bot¬tles.
He was conscious only of intense pain, his body burning as though he had been scalded and whipped. His eyes were closed, but searing light wedged under their inﬂamed lids. It was an effort to open them. He was as weak as if one of the vampires of his delirium had drained away all his strength and left him dying. He blinked in pain, attempted to lift a feeble hand protectively to his face, could not, and shut his eyes again. Hot sunlight pressed down on him like an incandescent weight. And—where was he?
He opened his eyes again, but cautiously. As his body swayed—he seemed cradled in a giant’s arms—one of his hands slipped aside and down into icy water. Unthinkingly he jerked it back, and the quick movement started blood and a ghost of power through his veins. Water? He struggled to sit up, failed. Groaning with exertion, he forced up his head and squinted around him. There was a curious crackling at the motion.
He was lying on a battered platform of charred wood that was white and sparkling with a coating of salt. His head had been pillowed on a bundle of crisp dry seaweed; that was what had crackled. What had happened to his clothes? He was in swimming trunks, and they were stiff and powdered with salt. All around him, merging into the sky, was lazily stirring water.
What was he doing here on this raftlike wreckage? He frowned, trying to remember, and as his brows pulled together, pain shot through them like the jab of countless needles. He dragged a hand to his forehead; it was raw, blistered and peeling from long exposure to the sun.
Strength was reluctantly returning to him. Clamping his teeth together, he bent an arm, rolled over on it and levered himself up to a sitting posture. He propped his arms behind him and leaned back against their support exhausted, his head drooping. Ripples lapping the raft murmured gently, mocking¬ly, as though from throats of glass.
He lifted his head perplexedly. He had been trying to remember something, but what? It eluded him. Well, no matter—here he was on a bit of driftwood, apparently miles out at sea. He’d better worry about getting back to land, wherever that was.
Perhaps it was his weakness, but he sensed that something was wrong with the sky. It was too blue, and it seemed to ﬂicker here and there, as though it were not air but a sheet of blue lightning. And the sun quivered as though he were looking at its reﬂection on restless water, or seeing it through shimmering heat.
He folded his legs and leaned over them, his head bent, the sun hot on his back. It was hard to think. He ran his tongue over his cracked lips, tasted salt, and suddenly was very thirsty. Out of the corner of his eye he glanced avidly at the water, but he knew better than to try drinking it.
He stood up, tottering on the swaying raft. There was no sign of land. Only water. He lurched, almost fell, and gingerly seated himself again as though upon broken glass. He exhaled heavily, with a sound that was a blend of sob and sigh. The afternoon limped along toward dusk as though each minute had stretched into an hour. Once a large ﬁsh broke water, far away—that was all.
At sundown he was lying on his stomach, staring down into the empty depths of blue-black water. Intuitively he lifted his head. The sun was a scarlet disk on the horizon, with a tremulous red path stretching from it across the water to the raft. But there was a dark speck against the brilliant disk—he made a visor of his hand over his brow and peered at the speck. It was tiny with distance. A ship? His eyes widened with eager hope and he grinned foolishly as he raised himself to hail it. Slowly the dark shape enlarged, and as slowly the sun became water-logged and settled into the sea, leaving wavering trails in the blue lightning of the atmosphere to mark its path of descent. Purple twilight rolled in from the east like colored mist, bringing with it a cool wind that was like a soothing salve on his sunburn. The sea lifted drowsily, as though awaking, and slow swells swung the raft up and down, almost upsetting the standing man.
In the deepening dusk the approaching vessel was a silhouette. The man waved his arms and pitifully essayed to leap up and down, but he was still not strong enough; he reeled and nearly toppled over. He opened his mouth but no sound could emerge, only a scraping gust of breath, and he waited impa¬tiently, his hands held high, signaling.
The wind was colder now and hurried. It drove waves before it like cattle, whipping them into a froth of haste. They wrenched the raft as though forcing it out of their path; thrown from his balance, the man dropped to his knees. Stars pushed aside the curtains of sky to look down. The man looked back into the night from which the chilly wind came. The foam-crested waves were tumbling over each other in their rush, grumbling confusedly. The ship was an expanding shadow.
The man’s eyes ached from staring; he ﬂailed his arms desperately. The ship cut through the water toward him, no lights glinting from its hulk or rigging. And now he saw that it was a peculiar type of ship—a kind that he had never actually seen on water. Water was sliding over the raft and he clung to the warped planks, his eyes on the vessel. Where had he seen it? He pressed his lips together, concentrating.
In books! In motion pictures! It seemed to be a Viking galley, but that was rather farfetched. A Viking galley on the seas today? Impossible! Yet here it was, certainly real enough, very close now. He could discern the striped red-and-yellow sail even in the gloom. The raft jerked, almost throwing him on his face. The ship was hardly a thousand feet away. He waved futilely, considered a moment, and, cupping his palms, lifted them to his face. He gargled the bitter sea water and spat. Now he could shout. He could hardly hear his hoarse voice above the uproar of the waves—and could those on the vessel hear him over the wailing of the wind?
The ship was darting toward him like a charging beast. If it did not strike him it would pass close—very close. The man shouted again. They must have heard him. Abruptly exhaust¬ed, he relaxed and waited. The ship was almost abreast of him, only ﬁfty feet away. He leaped to his feet; made a megaphone of his hands at his mouth and shouted. He thought that he glimpsed men on board, but they did not answer. The ship swept past him and onward.
Detail of Jim Pitt's frontispiece
BEYOND THE GOLDEN STAIR
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 3
First of all they saw the pool.
The steps ended on a platform feet square. Its center had been hollowed into a shallow basin twenty feet in diameter and was rimmed by translucent milky stone like Soochow jade. The pool was paved with this stone, the border an upthrust of it.
The water was impossibly blue and coated with a metallic sheen like the wings of Guatemala’s blue butterﬂies from which jewelry is made. Not a ripple marred its surface. It might have been brilliant glass of cobalt dusted with atoms of amethyst.
It was like, Hibbert thought—remembering his myths—the vat of dye reserved by the Creator for the staining of peacock plumes.
In its center stood a blue ﬂamingo, one webfoot lifted and a long toe of that foot projecting toward them like an admonishing foreﬁnger. Its hue was neither so deep nor rich as the water, but was the weaker blue of the sky and streaked with blazing opalescence.
It did not move. It watched them from an eye of gold and amber. And it seemed a statue molded from air itself and lacquered with the fugitive glints of the rainbow.
It lived, for a breeze ruffled its feathers. It watched them warily but with no hint of fear nor enmity. It seemed to be appraising them—more, judging them!
Carlotta moved restlessly, glancing back to the steps, then to Scarlatti. She said, a bit breathlessly: “I seen albino ﬂamingos—but a blue one? It’s like a cat with horns and a ﬁsh’s tail besides!”
Scarlatti said: “Well, when two-headed calves get born now and then, and turtles with one head and two bodies, I guess anything’s possible.”
But Carlotta seemed intent on denying the evidence of her senses. “It’s white,” she insisted, and Hibbert wondered at her vehemence. “Albino—the blue’s reflected from the water.”
However, the uncanny blue of the water was almost as disconcerting to her as the ﬂamingo. She peered over the parapet’s brink. For mile on mile, a sawgrass swamp stretched to distance-hazed lines of palmettos. There were no further indications of ruins, no tumbled blocks nor verdure-covered mounds. It was as though the stair had been constructed solely to lead to the pool. She did not seem to care much for the conclusion—nor did Hibbert.
“This water looks bluer than it really is,” she remarked, oddly deﬁant, “because most of the swamp water’s black. Rainwater. But ﬂamingos don’t feed excepting in salt water . . . if it’s only a bird, and not . . .”
She stooped and dipped up a handful of water, than spilled it—distrustfully, as if expecting it to stain like ink. She raised her wet hand to her mouth as if to taste the drops on it.
With a cry like clanging metal, the blue bird ﬂapped its wings! Carlotta dropped her hand from her mouth, leaped up, and moved closer to Scarlatti. The ﬂamingo craned its long serpentine neck, staring at her, and unwillingly she stared back. For a very long moment, they were gripped in that mutual gaze. An eerie moment, for it struck Hibbert that some message was ﬂashing between the two. He could almost apprehend it himself . . . like the echo of an echo’s echo.
Then the bird turned its head from the woman. Slowly and deliberately, it coiled its long neck over its back as if preparing to sleep.
Carlotta eyed her wet hand as if her fortune were written on its palm, then wiped it on her skirt with unnecessary carefulness. She said abruptly, tonelessly: “Let’s scram out of here.”
“Why so sudden?” Burks asked.
“I don’t want to talk about it. I just want to go!”
She tugged on Scarlatti.
“Seems to me you know something, and you’re holding out,” Burks said.
Her voice rose. “So maybe I do know something! But let’s get away!”
Detail of Jim Pitt's frontispiece
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER 6
She was tall, birch-slender, and though voluminous draperies cloaked her, they were so airy and thin that the slightest movement pressed them close to her body, revealing every lithe line of it. The opaque scarves were sky-blue, and the clouds of hair which swirled over her shoulders, and which at first I thought were other scarves of a turban, so silky were they, were shimmeringly golden.
If it were possible for a master artisan to melt white rose-petals like wax and then mould them into the face of Titania, he could have created Sula’s face. Her skin was very white, its shadows pinkly pearl-like. Her face was oval, and her eyes were like oval sapphires. Her pale mouth was very small and seemed pursed for a kiss. For a sorceress, she was not frightening at all. She impressed me as being a gentle nymph, harmless as an animate ﬂower. I did not guess then that even her beauty was a product of her peculiar science.
She crooked her ﬁnger at me again, and I went to her. The blue fabric ﬂoated around her like twilight clouds. I could only gaze helplessly into her vast eyes.
She reached out and touched me; a thrill swept over me like oil spreading on water. She seemed aware of it, and smiled. Turning, she nodded toward the doorway, and spoke; her voice was high and tense, so much more a bird’s than human that I had difficulty in understanding her words.
“I saw you coming up the hill. Won’t you come in—and apprise me as to your mission?”
I was still petriﬁed by her unbelievable loveliness; she plucked my sleeve, and I awoke to motion. We stepped over the threshold; my eyes swept the hall once-it was a cavernous place, with bands of tinted sculpture striping its walls—and returned to Sula: as they roved from her face over her body and back again, she intercepted them. I ﬂushed, wondering if she could read my thought, and was about to look away from discomﬁture when she smiled—provocatively—yes, and placed a hand sensuously on her hip. My heart leaped; my eyes asked foolish questions which hers answered.
I stopped stock-still and she moved her slender arm slipped around my back; she pressed herself to me and we kissed. Almost instantly she stepped away and waited a few paces in front of me, smiling maliciously. It took me a few seconds to come back to normal after that kiss, and inwardly I cursed my legs, which insisted on trembling. My heart was thudding as if it had become a sledge-hammer pendulum banging against the walls of my body.
She took my hand, led me through the sculptured hall; we came to a door beyond which a stairway arose; dropping my hand, she preceded me upward. Like the perspective in an art student’s drawing, the lines of walls and steps drew into a point with distance, so that I wondered just how high we must climb. Several times during our ascent the woman peeped back at me coyly; I felt a bit like Merlin, chasing the Gleam.
My thighs began to ache, but by the time we reached the top of the ﬂight, I was moving like an automaton. Sula waited for me, and as I stood looking back at the steps which now seemed to descend to Hell itself, my knees almost buckled. Instantly Sula was beside me, her fragile hands attempting to steady me—a pretty gesture; she probably couldn't have held up a toppling doll. They lingered on my chest, thrilling me, and I thrust them away.
“Where to, now?” I asked. “I only hope it's not up more stairs."
She laughed, letting her head fall back, showing white teeth. “I didn't think! We might have ridden up by my magic.”
“You didn’t think of that as we came upstairs?" I queried.
“Oh, yes,” she responded candidly. “Only—I thought that I'd rather see you a little weary and less amorous—” In any other woman the ﬂute-like tremolo of her voice would have seemed affected, even ludicrous; but Sula was surely more bird than woman. Angel, rather.
She pulled my sleeve. “Come; we can’t go any higher: we’re in the top of one of the towers.” The steps had ended on a roomy passage, along which she led me.
“Maybe your science can get you upstairs with a minimum of effort, but so can an elevator,” I said and wished I hadn’t, for the green charm imbedded in my forehead sent ripples of pain through me.
“Elevator?” She frowned perplexedly: despite the pangs shooting through my temples I had to explain the word; it left me sweating and sick. “But that is more trouble than magic!” she cried. “Look!” She reached under the scarves which covered her bosom, and withdrew a slender gold chain from which hung a ﬂashing diamond star. “With the aid of this I can command the elemental forces—the energies—in the air around us.”
She turned the star over and over in her hands, her agile ﬁngers pressing here, prying there, altering the shape of the thing, increasing the number of facets from which the reﬂected light danced prismatically. Suddenly a great clang-like the prolonged booming of a great bell—resounded not so much from the star as from the very walls themselves.
I felt myself gripped by something invisible; when I, tried to thrust out defensive hands, I discovered that I was temporarily paralyzed. I was lifted from the ﬂoor as if meshed in a net gripped by an unseen hand, she cried. I and borne down the hall, Sula ﬂoating beside me. We were carried far down the passage to a door; apparently of its own volition the portal swung wide, and we were wafted into a room whose walls were hung with filmy textiles the turquoise tint of an autumn sky. Streaks of scented smoke oozed lazily from ponderous and ornate brass braziers.
The invisible hold upon me relaxed, dropping me to the ﬂoor. Sula stood near, laughing as she tucked the diamond into her dress.
“That isn’t all that my star can do,” the sorceress remarked, while I scrambled to my feet. “It can make many kinds of sound, dreadful heat, and a strange light—which I will afterward show you when I take you to my garden.” She moved to a silken divan. “But now, be seated and tell me why you are here.” She patted the space beside her, and when I did not sit as close as she had indicated, she moved nearer.
I told her my predicament, and as I spoke her eyes grew wide with interest. Suddenly she interrupted: “You want to get back to your body—!” She arose, motioning for me to stand also. “I’m curious to see what that shell may be to which you are so eager to return.”
She brushed aside one of the hangings on the wall, disclosing another doorway through, which we stepped into a smaller chamber cluttered like a store-room with furniture and inexplicable things built of twisted tubing, huge metal spheres, and oddly vascular fretwork of iridescent waxy substances. Small windows admitted dim light which was supplemented by a luminous globe on a tall pedestal. I thought that the light ﬂickered, for the shadows among the furnishings had begun to stir. Sula murmured something in her treble voice, and the shadows rushed past us from the room; I recognized them as the black folk which Lascima had named Sula’s familiars.
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HANNES BOK BIOGRAPHY by Robert Weinberg
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