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The Heads of Cerberus

Francis Stevens

Average Review Rating Average Rating 8/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : Polaris Press

Published : Kindle 2004

Copyright : Polaris Press 1954

ISBN-10 : PB 1-60872-140-X
ISBN-13 : PB 978-1-60872-140-5

Publisher's Write-Up

Published by Polaris Press in book form over half-century ago in a collector's edition of 1563 copies, this great science-fantasy sells for more than $100 today. The novel was originally serialized in the pulp magazine The Thrill Book in 1919. A scholarly reprint edition was issued by Arno Press in 1978, and a mass market paperback by Carroll & Graf in 1984.

Written by the woman whose pseudonym was Francis Stevens, it has been hailed as the first alternate history novel. Fantasy master H. P. Lovecraft hailed Francis Stevens as among "the top grade of writers." The Heads of Cerberus tells of an alternate-world Philadelphia, reached by a handful of this-world people. This Philadelphia is one in which the political corruptors have become ruthless autocrats, ruling through phony civic service competitions which result in cynically brutal enslavement of the people. The name of William Penn has become, under the organizational label of ‘Penn Service’, the very fountainhead of viciously depraved, dictatorial government. Definitely a classic and fun to read. (Galaxy)

'A much sought rarity.'

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Reader Reviews

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Review by Paul Lappen (310715) Rating (8/10)

Review by Paul Lappen
Rating 8/10
This is a rarely reprinted science fiction novel of the early 20th Century about three people suddenly sent on a wild adventure.

Set in Philadelphia of the early 20th Century, Robert Drayton is a young lawyer in ethical trouble. Terry Trenmore is a big, strapping Irishman, full of muscles, but perhaps a bit lacking in brains. Viola is Terry's teenage sister. Through a busted burglary and a bit of intrigue, they are sitting at a table with a mysterious glass bottle in front of them. The sterling silver stopper is shaped into Cerberus, the mythological three-headed dog. It contains ‘the dust of Purgatory’, said to have been collected by Dante himself during his time there. Terry touches the dust, and immediately disappears. Viola and Robert soon follow.

They find themselves in a strangely changed Philadelphia. After just a few minutes on the street, they are arrested for not wearing their number in public. It turns out that they have travelled 200 years into the future, to a dystopian Philadelphia, where everyone has numbers instead of names. They are taken to the Hall of Justice, where the punishment for breaking the law is to be thrown into the Pit of the Past. It is a large pit that is home to a carnivorous creature with steel spikes for teeth. Instead, the three are entered into ‘democratic’ civil service exams, to become part of the ruling class. Actually, the contests are fixed, and the losers die. The ruling class does have names, like Cleverest, Swiftest and Loveliest; they also have total control over the population. History has been suppressed, and literacy is forbidden. Drayton gets in big trouble simply for asking for a newspaper. In 22nd Century Philadelphia, William Penn is worshiped as an angry god, and the Liberty Bell has been turned into a disintegrator machine. Can the three return home? Do they survive this dystopian nightmare?

This novel should be much more available than it has been. It does stereotype its characters, but the author stays away from insulting stereotypes. It certainly works as a dystopian novel, and is very much worth the reader's time.
Paul Lappen (31st July 2015)

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