Guy N. Smith was something of a going concern at my old school, particularly among a select band of reprobates. I would watch enviously as his paperbacks were passed around, while slogging through How Many Miles to Babylon? or The Power and the Glory or some other piece of book. Smith's covers were worth the price of admission alone, and Bats Out of Hell is no exception, its front illustration being lovingly rendered by Bob Martin. The contents never varied - flashes of O-Level devilry followed by lashings of blood, in the best tradition of late 70s and early 80s mass market pulps. Only James Hadley Chase had the edge on Smith, and only because Corgi photographed girls for his covers, usually in various states of undress.
Bats Out of Hell's frustrated and adulterous boffin is Brian Newman, whose attempt to test the difference between early diagnosis viral/bacterial meningitis results in said bats becoming crazed fiends - carriers of a new strain of meningitis, which is fatal, of course, but after inducing madness, for good measure. An accident at the laboratory allows a number of infected bats to escape, and they slowly fan out across the English countryside. Newman and his trusty, blonde assistant are quickly on the case, even if the authorities are late on the uptake. We follow the course of the virus through the normally sedate English midlands - wiping out small church congregations here and gaggles of unruly schoolboys there, inexorably heading towards a major population centre. The bats finally reach the city of Birmingham, turning up in a Treasury vault, and Smith has much inspired fun at the expense of the assembled clerks, several of whom flee, leaving the remainder trapped and, ultimately, dead. The prime minister declares a state of emergency, and the midlands are sealed off and contained by a newly formed militia, the British Volunteer Force. While Newman works desperately towards an antitoxin, Birmingham is razed to the ground, and civil disorder becomes widespread. Yet when he does happen across a possible solution, it comes with the usual caveat - the potential to be worse in the longer term; because it will destroy all small animal life where it is used.
Bats Out of Hell is a quick, satisfying read. Smith's prose is surprisingly supple, with all pretensions no doubt subjected to the same red pencil as tender mercies, and while his characters are drawn straight from central casting, at least they are returned there thoroughly infected. The book doesn't quite make it into the apocalypse canon because the virus doesn't make it out of central England; however, its ending is a fine application of coincidence theory, which marks it as superior pulp reading.
I've had Conscience Interplanetary on my bookshelf for years - it was a book I thought I'd never get around to reading, but a recent bout of flu left me in a restless frame of mind and sent me to the shelf specifically for this one. I had encountered Green before - not at novel length, but from his many short stories which would crop up quite often as I dipped randomly into vintage magazines.
Conscience Interplanetary consists of four such stories padded out with new material to comprise a full-length novel. The stories are quite good, if somewhat derivative of better work in a similar line by James White and Lloyd Biggle Jr; that is, cultural and anthropological surveys of alien worlds with a view to exploitation. Green's protagonist, Conscience Odegaard, is a member of the Practical Philosopher Corps, whose job it is to assess the intelligence of native species on newly discovered worlds. If the species is deemed intelligent, or has the potential of intelligence, the planet is designated protected; if not, the planet is open to the full horrors of colonisation, mining and general corporate mayhem. Of course, it is in the interests of business that as many planets as possible are open for exploitation, so the Practical Philosopher Corps face every kind of sabotage and subterfuge at the hands of the New Roman Party, which represents corporate interests. Odegaard must ensure that his professional judgments are also secure against unpicking by the New Romans, and this involves much politics back on Earth.
The original magazine stories are fine and, I presume, intact. They evince a good deal of sympathy and subtlety by the author on behalf of the disenfranchised universe; my own favourite was the alien plant which constructed from its leaves a woofer and a tweeter so that it might have a voice with which to protest. Where Conscience Interplanetary stalls somewhat is in its fixup material - it seems to conflict in tone and mood with the original stories, leaving the novel inconsistent. However, towards the end of the book the author manages an extraordinary turnaround, as Odegaard, returned to Earth, hunts a group of New Roman politicians who themselves are hunting Bigfoot in the American forest wilds. This is one of those thematic salvage points which are often to be found in genre fiction, and which transform ostensibly bad writing into good writing by sheer gall and wit, as well as being delightful.