Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Jerry Sohl is perhaps best known for his work in television, as well as a few theatrical features. He provided scripts for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone, although in the latter case his work was as a ghost writer for Charles Beaumont and he did not receive screen credit. He also wrote three episodes for original Star Trek, the best of which was "The Corbomite Maneuver." It is possible Night Slaves was originally conceived for either Outer Limits or Twilight Zone, because the story elements would have fit either show, plus the book reads a lot like a script, very descriptive of the characters, as well as mood and setting.
It was adapted for TV later, as an ABC Movie of the Week in 1970. I do recall seeing it and thinking it was good for the limitations of TV at that time, but it has never been released on any video format, so unless it shows up on one of the thousands of channels we have these days I probably won't have a chance to see it again. It was the memory of that film that caused me to select this as the first book to review from ReAnimusPress. Sohl began writing short stories and novels in the early '50s, but it was probably his experience in television that made this book better than it might otherwise have been. There are a few negatives however, mostly a dated style of character action and dialog, reminiscent of TV and movies from that era. There are some story elements that definitely could not have been presented on TV then, and not even in American theatrical films until the late '60s.
UPDATE: Someone has recently uploaded the entire movie to YouTube. The video quality is poor, and the production values leave a lot to be desired, but it's still pretty good for a low budget TV movie. It could have used a few extra minutes to flesh out the scenario though.
Clay Howard has been injured in an auto accident, one in which he was at fault and two people in the other vehicle were killed. Along with brain damage, Howard suffers from guilt because of his actions. After physical therapy and psychiatric consultation, Clay and his wife Marjorie take a break for a quiet vacation in the secluded coastal town of Eldrid, California. What happens to Clay there causes Marjorie to seek out a more experienced psychiatrist, and thus Clay becomes a patient at the private clinic of Dr. Matt Russell. Utilizing sodium pentothal, Dr. Russell attempts to get to the core of Clay's obsession of what transpired in Eldrid.
I won't spoil anything, but suffice it to say that the doctor, while convinced of the effectiveness of pentothal, has a difficult time accepting what Clay seems to think of as the truth, and Marjorie has no recollection of the events he describes. Clay claims that Marjorie and all the people in the town become zombie-like automatons every night, walking (and driving) out into the countryside for some unknown reason. Two people in Clay's story have names that are direct reverse anagrams of the two people killed in the accident. Is that just Clay's guilt projection, or do those people utilize Clay's memory to implant those names in his mind? There have been quite a few stories that relate events that could be mere illusions or hallucinations, or else could be exactly what they seem. One of the editors at ReAnimusPress told me the movie ending was different from the book, so now I wish I did have another opportunity to see it. The book's ending is rather abrupt, without a concrete conclusion. I'm pretty sure the movie led you to believe Clay's story was real, but the strength of the book is that it remains vague. You can believe what you want to believe.
Edit: The movie's ending is only slightly different than the book, but it does show something that would lead one to believe Clay actually saw and experienced what he had related to his wife. The doctor doesn't figure into the movie, as the character of Matt Russell is Marjorie's lover instead.
Ever since I created this site and realized how many classic SF books are out of print, I have wanted to have a small press operation in order to bring some of those titles back. E-books are the wave of the future though, so ReAnimusPress is on the right track. They assure me that they pay higher commissions to the authors (or in the case of the late Jerry Sohl, to the author's estate) than does amazon.com or Barnes & Noble, even though they sell through those retailers too. As a reward for their efforts, please take the link below to their site and peruse their available titles. In just the few weeks since I was made aware of them, they have added quite a few new titles and authors, and I hope that continues well into the future.
Other e-books from ReAnimusPress
Sohl's bibliography at fantasticfiction.co.uk
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