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I couldn't put down The Man Who Couldn't Sleep

The Man Who Couldn't Sleep - Charles Eric (pen name used by David McIlwain) Maine The Isotope Man - Charles Eric Maine

This summer I got to do one of my favorite activities: Hunting for books in small town used book stores. I'm not looking for any thing spectacular, just something forgotten that deserves to be recovered.  At a small book store on a side street in New Paltz, New York I found two books by Charles Eric Maine in the scifi section. I had never heard of Maine or any of his titles but something about these thin novels intrigued me. There was 1950's vibe to the covers and the tagline: "a novel of menace." 


You can read more about Charles Eric Maine, whose real name was David McIlwain, on his Wikipedia entry. As far as I can tell he never won a hugo but he created colorful characters and put them in mysterious situations--the kind of situations that look hopeless. And yet his protagonists find their way out in the end through a mixture of hard work, thoughtfulness, and luck. 


The Isotope Man is a pulp detective story with a hard boiled reporter and girl photographer with fantasy science elements and evil foreigners. The best part of The Isotope Man is the setting: London just after World War II. Written in 1957 it's a time capsule full the prevailing stereotypes of the early Cold War.


I found The Man Who Couldn't Sleep much more compelling. The hero is a self-centered, weak willed insomniac. His love interests are using him to further their own interests. The bad guy is a likable visionary. The science element involves recording thoughts and emotions and replaying them back to an audience like a movie. The result is something very much like The Matrix only without robots, computers, or Kung Fu.