Eddy C. Bertin
published in 2013
Eddy C. Bertin was an important author in my personal Golden Age of science fiction. A Flemish author, he was one of the few science fiction writers writing in Dutch back in the late seventies & eighties. Dutch language science fiction has never been particularly abundant and most that was published was not very good. Bertin was one of the few exceptions, an author who could’ve found an audience in English as well (and indeed, has had a couple of stories published in English). Still active, Bertin has written everything from hard science fiction to dark fantasy and horror, often mixing genres and with a tendency towards the Lovecraftian end of horror.
Sterrensplinters (Star Splinters) is a 2013 anthology collecting some of his best stories taken from his 1970s and 1980s collections. These are all long out of print, so a new collection of them is very welcome. The short introduction doesn’t tell much about why exactly these stories were chosen, or why the collection had to be divided into two parts: Membranen and Splinters, other than that the first set of stories takes place in a shared universe, while the remainder are standalone. That second set of stories feels as an afterthought, even if it includeds one of Bertin’s most famous stories.
No, the real meat of the collection is in that first section, showcasing some of the key stories from his Membrane future history. This is a very seventies sort of future history, in that the coming psychic and psychadelic revolution lead to the liberation of the mind through a new class of drugs, freeing the long hidden ultracentre within the brain, that enabled jumps through ultraspace and the conquest of the universe. Fortunately however Bertin was enough of a cynic to not make this into a hippy-drippy cosmic love sort of universe, but instead the monopoly on those ultrapsych drugs was held by powerful companies like Afrostellar and LBL, underpinning an imperialistic, capitalistic, expansionist world order that looked forward to cyberpunk.
There’s also more than a hint of Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe about the Membrane universe, unknown dangers lurking in the depths of ultraspace, attracted to the splashes human ships make in it, while in the real universe humanity despite its belief in its own propaganda, may not be a match for more cunning, more aggressive species. There’s a barely controlled chaos behind the gleaming facade of the setting, a sense of moving towards a predestined doom for the entire universe. In fact, the Membrane stories were originally collected in three books: Eenzame Bloedvogel (1976), De Sluimerende Stranden van de Geest (1981) and Het Blinde Doofstomme Beest op de Kale Berg (1983), with that third featuring that ultimate doom, The Blind, Deaf-Mute Beast on the Bald Mountain that waits in the Membranes at the end of the universe…
- “Een Stuk van je Gezicht” (A Part of Your Face, 1976)
This hasn’t aged well, the story of an ultranaut that is fleeing something in his own past, stuck in an endless loop in ultraspace and with something having taken the role of his dead partner. It hasn’t aged well because the story’s conflict is rooted in the idea that it would be acceptable for a male-female partnership to be sent out to explore an alien planet while the woman also has to satisfy her partner’s sex drive, but refuses to.
- “De Droom is een Dood” (The Dream is a Death, 1981)
A short vignette about some of the other uses the Ultrapsych drug can be used for, like capturing the last dreams of a dying man…
- “Voor de Liefde van Virginia Clemm” (For the Love of Virginia Clemm, 1977)
One of Bertin’s best stories, in which his own personal obsession with Edgar Allan Poe comes to the fore, as an Ultraspace explorer gets stuck in Poe’s brain and watches him self destruct. It’s an incredibly seventies story, which is what makes it so charming.
- “Berlijn, Ze Branden Je Muren Neer” (Berlin, They Burn Your Walls Down, 1978)
Did I say the previous story was seventies? This was even more so, an ode to the rock and roll obsessions of the baby boom generation growing older. In New Berlin, for his greatest concert ever, the greatest membrane rock star ever ponders his dark secret, the passenger he picked up traversing the ultraspace membranes, a passenger that will kill one of his audience as they merge membranes with him… Featuring robot doubles of Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy as part of the stage act, just to date this even more. Great story though, for all its surface silliness.
- “Als Ik Doodga voor Ik Wakker Word” (If I Die before I Wake, 1994)
The only new story in the collection for me, written long after the bulk of Bertin’s Membrane stories had been written. An experiment to create a fractal human able to exists in the ultraspace Membranes unaided, lures something from the depths of ultraspace towards it, something both alive and not, something hungry…
- “Rode Hemel met Stalen Bloemen” (Red Sky with Steel Flowers, 1983)
The mutated survivors of a Terran-Cappellan battle on a small, unimportant planet sustain themselves on the fruit of the steel flowers that fall down from the sky at regular times. Only the reader realises that these are in fact the cryochambers of the survivors of the space battle that destroyed their planet twohundred years before…
Most of these stories are pure O’ Henry type shockers, with a bizarre scenario set up and the truth behind it revealed at the end of the story. Even when first published these were somewhat old fashioned, which reveals somewhat of the level of sophistication Dutch language science fiction operated (and still operates). These aren’t bad stories, just the kind of story you’d see as filler in some monthly magazine.
- “Deuren 1 tot en met 5″ (Doors 1 to 5, 1982)
An astronaut lands on a strange planet, empty and barred save for one door. When the door turns out to talk, what follows is a test: but who’s testing who?
- “Alle Schaduwen van de Angst” (All Shadows of Fear, 1971)
The sole survivor of a alien invasion lives in the shadows of their presence, in fear of discovery. But do the aliens really exist, or do they mask a much more frightening reality he’s trying to ignore?
- “In de Stervende Stad” (In the Dying City, 1971)
It’s only when he discovers he’s a mutant and has to flee the city, that the protagonist realises that the oppressive authoritarian regime ruling it is doomed, as is the city itself, despite its technological prowess.
- “De Achtjaarlijkse God” (the Eight Yearly God, 1969)
On a post-apocalyptic Earth, God is closer than ever and shows his wrath every eight years.
- “Tijdstorm” (Time Storm, 1971)
Due to an unforeseen time storm Harvey Lonestall accidently enters the far future headquarters of conspiracy to force Earth’s history into a dark path. He now has the opportunity to bring Earth’s history back to the path it should’ve taken — but is this really the right choice?