Though its name probably conjures thoughts of science fiction stories, Forbidden Worlds is primarily a horror anthology, a popular genre in 1951, when these issues were published. That doesn’t stop many of the stories from featuring scientist characters, working on everything from robots to atomic power to “perfect soil,” and giving the stories a ready-made Doubting Thomas or coldly logical protagonist. This is a series that doesn’t shy away from cliché in the least – this collection has a lot of vampires (in the Hollywood “turns-into-a-bat” mold) and werewolves – but the execution is not always as dull as the premise initially makes these stories seem.
Even so, of the few dozen stories contained in these first four issues of Forbidden Worlds, there are stories good, forgettable, and laughably bad. The strong stories – things like “Demon of Destruction,” which opens the book – put their heroes into a difficult, sometimes horrifying situation, and it’s not always clear how they will get out of it (if they get out of it). A lot of the weaker ones are still entertaining to read because of their Golden Age logic and science, like “The League of Vampires,” in which a vampire steals a scientist’s “perfect soil” (which, from the description, is just soil from thirty different locations mixed together) and which contains a villain who thinks that the police take every case of hypnosis to be fact, or “Domain of the Doomed,” wherein our heroes (an atomic scientist and his girlfriend) ride a balloon into deep space atop an atom bomb. (They survive the cold and lack of oxygen thanks to the radiation they’ve absorbed from the bomb.) Other highlights include a “true” ghost story about Andrew Jackson, where he comes to a friend’s home to witness the witch said to be tormenting the family, laughs at everyone’s misfortune, and departs. The witch’s curse later claims his friend’s life.
Forbidden Worlds reads as a good example of late Golden Age or early Silver Age storytelling, a bit dense but not without some depth and entertainment value on its own. There’s a lot to like in this volume for the horror enthusiast, and though none of the stories are exactly going to keep you up at night, some of them are solid entries in the horror story tradition. As always, these Golden Age archives have a lot of historical appeal, but Forbidden Worlds has plenty of quality in its own right. If that combination is your thing, this volume is worth a serious look.