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;THERE must be at least half a dozen Howard Fasts. There is the historian-novelist whose Citizen Tom Paine, April Morning, The Hessian, The American and The Crossing belong in the national archives. There is the reconstructionist who has given new life to ancient lore and legends in My Glorious Brothers, Torquemada, Moses, Prince of Egypt, and Spartacus. There is the social critic of Conceived in Liberty and Freedom Road, which has appeared in eighty-two languages and has been read by more than twenty-five million. There is the creator of a most incongruous galaxy of women--Millie, Margie, Sally, Helen, Lydia, Sylvia, Shirley, Phyllis, Alice, Penelope, Samantha--all of whom run, and sometimes race, the gamut from the lightest titillations to the darkest terrors, and all of whom owe their origin to the pseudonymous E.V. Cunningham. There is the dramatist of screen and television award-winning plays. And there are probably other Howard Fasts whom I have not yet discovered.

I have not mentioned the Howard Fast who is the author of this collection. The stories included are a balance and sometimes an alternation of fact, fantasy, and science-fiction. I prefer to think of them as speculative fictions. But the speculations transcend categories, for they are tense with electrifying power--a power which makes them frightening and, at times, mantic. The range is from horror to humor. I know of nothing to compare with the dexterity and surprises manifest in these pages.

Among my favorites are "The Hunter," a weird psychological-pathological transmogrification of Hemingway's tragic finale; "The Trap, " a vision, or rather a hope, for a new race of men, a more spiritual species of homo sapiens, a breed that might save humanity from what seems to be his built-in drive for destructiveness; the suspenseful surrealistic farce of "The Hoop"; the vast implications in the little, localized "A Matter of Size"; the deadpan complacency with which the ultimate catastrophe is presented in "Not With a Bang"; the new and devastating twist to the often-tried formula of the time-machine in "The Mind of God"; the hilarious absurdity of "The Talent of Harvey"; the probing and painful bitterness of "Cephes 5"; the purely poetic concept of "The Egg"; the incisive sarcasm of "Cato the Martian"; the paradoxical logic and lingering, question of "The Cold, Cold Box," which is both baleful and beautiful; the elaborate ingenuity of "The Martian Shop"; the unbelievably bland nonsense in "The Vision of Milty Boil"; "The Wound," which somehow centers about the old ballad of the son who carries his mother's heart to his sweetheart ... but these are private predilections.

I have read Howard Fast's stories for years, and I have never failed to be delighted and even dazzled by them, by his gift for capturing, teasing, teaching, terrifying, and generally hypnotizing his audience. Whatever genre he elects to explore, he is unquestionably one of the most varied and vivifying storytellers of our time.

Louis Untermeyer