Originally published in 1970, The General Zapped an Angel collects nine science fiction and fantasy tales from the late American author and TV writer Howard Fast (Spartacus). Inventively strange and thought-provoking, Fast's tales satirize the human condition, focusing on greed. His characters' fixations on seeing their visions realized leads them into ethically treacherous ground: a warmonger shoots an angel and wants just to bury it; an alien race grants a mouse human cognition and telepathy yet refuses to end its suffering on Earth; a husband sells his soul for tomorrow's Wall Street Journal and considers the devil's suggestions on how to afford stock. Other stories explore existentialism. In "The Interval," the protagonist tries to drive to safety when he realizes his world is a stage set being changed. And "The Movie House" modernizes Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" with a projectionist who denies that doors unlock even after a committeeman ventures outside.
Fast seems to condemn inaction as he portrays individuals complacently accepting disaster. After insects decimate cities, a husband assures his wife they "can only live with it the way it is." As Mother Earth bleeds out, the dowser who approved blasting for oil goes on reading his newspaper, noting it's "too late" to help.
Though his aliens' first reaction to humans is "Ugh!," Fast embeds hope in the stories "Mohawk" (a Mohawk Indian successfully meditates on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral) and "The Vision of Milty Boil" (a short man convinces society that smaller is better). Disturbingly funny and gratifyingly provocative, this eccentric collection encourages readers to think hard about what they value. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer