Acidic Bullets Vs. Disintegrating Flame, In "The Werewolves Of War!"

Illustration for article titled Acidic Bullets Vs. Disintegrating Flame, In "The Werewolves Of War!"

Possibly the most gripping science-fiction story of all time has gone up online, featuring daredevil air pilots hurling acidic bullets against the implacable Slavs and their disintegrating flame. It's the futuristic year of 1938, in "Werewolves Of War."


Published in the February 1931 issue of Astounding Stories, "Werewolves Of War" by D.W. Hall takes place seven years in the future, after the Slavs have overrun Europe and are now laying waste to the United States. The last scrappy defenders of America are just barely holding off the Slavs at California, and doing battle in the hazardous no-man's land of Nevada. D.W. Hall gives us the kind of writing you just don't see nowadays. Witness:

Trapped again!

But this time, Lance swore, they'd not get away without paying dearly for it!

Under the mesh of his gas-mask the lean lines of his jaw went taut. Tense, steely fingers flipped to the knobbed control instruments; the gleaming single-seater scout plane catapulted in a screaming somersault. Lance's ever-wary sixth sense told him the tongues of disintegrating flame had licked the plane's protected belly, and for the fact that it was protected he thanked again his stupendous luck. He pulled savagely at the squat control stick; the four Rahl-Diesels unleashed a torrent of power; and the slim scout rose like a comet, and hurtled, the altitude dial's nervous finger proclaimed, to ten thousand feet. Lance eased off the power, relaxed slightly, and glanced below.

So the Slavs have amazing super-weapon, the disintegrating flame, which takes out American airplanes by the dozen and whose secrets baffle America's scientists. Only the heroic squadron leader, Lance, is able to strike back at the Slavs using his acidic bullets, which give off "acrid white smoke" after they hit. This is a "scientific war," as Lance's commanding officer notes. But there's a traitor amongst Lance's unit, the Werewolves Of War, and nothing can stop the relentless encroachment of the villainous Slavs:

Werewolves of War, the batch of planes he belonged to had been christened, and it was a richly deserved title. In front of the front they fought, detailed to desperate, harrying missions, losing an average of ten men a day. The ordeal of gas and fire and acid bullets added five years to a man's brow overnight-if he served with the Werewolves of War.

Lance was only twenty-four, but his hair was splotched with dead gray strands; his eyes were hard and weary; his face lined with new wrinkles. Ah, well, it was war-and a losing war, he had to admit, that they fought. If a miracle didn't come, America would crumble even as old Europe had, before the overwhelming Slavish troops.

Even now, as Lance knew through various rumors, the Slavs were massed for a grand attack. And with what could America hold them back?

The unit also includes a comical Cockney mechanic, a refugee from a defeated England. My favorite part is when the story mentions that Lance "Immelmanned up." That's going to be my new catch phrase: "Immelman up, why don't you?" Lance suspects his fellow officer, Praed, is a coward and a spy — but he little realizes the shocking truth about Praed's identity, and how it relates to an amazing new secret super-weapon... the Flying Torpedo! But to win, they must destroy San Francisco utterly!

The whole story just went online recently, as part of Project Gutenberg — and in fact, that whole issue of Astounding Stories is on the site, for your astonishment and delight. Also included in the issue: "Tentacles From Below!" by Anthony Gilmore, "Phalanxes Of Atlans" by F.V.W. Mason, and "The Pirate Planet" (not to be confused with the Doctor Who story) by Charles W. Diffin. Enjoy! [Project Gutenberg via Free Speculative Fiction Online]




"Tentacles from Below"? I didn't know anime was around during the 1930s. Oh wait, they meant "below the ocean." Silly me. #bookvortex