The Flying Eyes by J. Hunter Holly science fiction book reviewsThe Flying Eyes by J. Hunter Holly science fiction book reviewsThe Flying Eyes by J. Hunter Holly

It sports one of the most famous covers in sci-fi paperback history; a piece of art so iconic that I have seen it reproduced in the form of refrigerator magnets! I am referring here to the first edition of J. Hunter Holly’s The Flying Eyes, the cover of which depicts a man and a woman fleeing in abject terror from the onslaught of several dozen – you guessed it – self-propelled, levitating eyeballs! Yes, I know that you just cannot judge a book by its cover alone, and the same surely goes for its title, but really, who could not be intrigued by that double-punch combo? Thus, this was a book that I’d wanted to read for years, despite my sneaking suspicion that the novel would turn out to be the veriest junk. But just recently, I chanced to read one of Holly’s other works, The Assassination Affair (1967), Book #10 in the 23-novel Man From U.N.C.L.E. series, and it wound up being one of my favorites of those nearly two dozen titles. (I hope, by the way, to share some thoughts here on all 23 of those books in the near future.) That Book #10 was very well written, tough and violent, so I was somewhat taken aback when, after doing a little research, I discovered that J. Hunter Holly was a woman … and with a dozen sci-fi novels to her credit, including The Flying Eyes! A quick Internet search netted me a very reasonably priced copy of that first edition, and to my great delight, the book has turned out to be anything but a piece of junk!

The Flying Eyes was originally released in June 1962 as a 35-cent Monarch Books paperback, and featuring that now-classic cover by Jack Schoenherr. Despite its many fine qualities, the novel would only see one more English-language edition (from the British publisher Priory Books, date unknown) before vanishing for decades. Fortunately for readers today, the good folks at Armchair Fiction rereleased the novel in 2012; a double volume paired with Philip Jose Farmer’s Some Fabulous Yonder, and sporting that same great Schoenherr cover. Oh … as for Holly herself, she was born Joan Carol Holly in Lansing, Michigan in 1932, and sadly passed away in 1982, at the age of 50; a genuine loss to the world of fiction, I might add, based on my first two experiences of her.

The Flying Eyes, Holly’s fourth novel (following 1959’s Encounter, 1960’s The Green Planet, and 1962’s The Dark Planet), introduces the reader to one Linc Hosler, who works as a troubleshooter of sorts at the Space Research Lab in an unnamed, small American town. This research installation is equipped with not only an antigravity room but also a full-scale nuclear reactor, both of which become crucial elements as the story proceeds. But I’m getting ahead of myself. As Holly’s story begins, Linc, his crush Kelly Adams, and Wesley Rowe, Linc’s coworker and the closest thing to a friend that he has, are attending a college football game … a game that is dramatically interrupted when eight flying eyeballs – each of them a full foot long but expanding rapidly – suddenly soar over the field and begin turning people into hypnotized zombies! Our trio manages to escape the resultant pandemonium, but matters only grow worse in the following days. Many more of the Eyes appear, luring their mesmerized victims down into a great pit outside of the town. The National Guard is called in, but it is soon learned that the Eyes can instantly repair their bullet wounds; when blown apart by mortar fire, their fragmented bits simply reunite! As one of the armed townspeople puts it, “They heal themselves. They congeal and heal, repeal the hole and make it whole”! When one of the reactor technicians is himself abducted and brought down into the pit, only to later return and then attempt to make the nuclear pile go blooey, Linc and Wes decide to take some highly risky initiatives on their own.

The Flying Eyes by J. Hunter Holly science fiction book reviewsFirst, they resolve to capture one of the Eyes, if possible, to study it and possibly even establish some sort of communication. Next, the two decide to attempt an entry into the pit itself to learn what is being done to all those hundreds of captured townsfolk. Both of these courses of action are extremely hazardous, of course, with the risk of being transformed into one of the mindless undead a constant factor when one is in the presence of the Eyes. But the necessity of doing something is a dire one, as both Linc and Wes’ boss – the elderly gravity researcher Jan Iverson – and a visiting brass hat from the Army, Col. Stanley, have just decided that the only solution to this threat is the nuclear option … an A bomb dropped directly into the great pit, killing all the prisoners as well as – hopefully – the alien invaders…

As you might have discerned, The Flying Eyes is very much indebted to those wonderful sci-fi films of the 1950s, with which it shares a lot of DNA. Thus, here we find a husky blonde hero who happens to be a man of science; a galpal with whom he constantly bickers, the relationship between the two being up in the air until the final reel … I mean, pages; horrendous, Earth-menacing alien monstrosities; a military man who wants to resort to extreme measures; and the suspenseful salvation of our world at the 11th hour. I can almost picture, oh, Richard Denning in the lead here as Linc Hosler, and perhaps Mara Corday as Kelly Adams. But of course, a motion picture featuring realistically depicted flying eyeballs was probably impracticable even in the early ‘60s. Today, however, the book would certainly be ripe material for a fantastic big-screen experience. Are you listening, Hollywood?

In all seriousness, though, The Flying Eyes is hardly the shlockfest that you might reasonably be expecting. Quite the opposite, actually. Despite its outrageous central conceit, the book is unfailingly intelligent and increasingly suspenseful, and boasts a gaggle of aliens (from the planet Zine) the likes of which you have never encountered before. Hint: The Eyes are just the removable tips of the proverbial iceberg, and the less said about those aliens, the better for prospective readers, I suppose. Indeed, Holly’s book contains so many startling developments that any reviewer of it must be necessarily hamstrung, for fear of ruining the experience for others. What I can tell you is that the author has a wonderfully readable style of writing, and a sure hand at rendering realistic-sounding dialogue. Like that Man From U.N.C.L.E. book of hers, this novel is also surprisingly violent, even gruesome at times, and the body count is a very high one. Even some of the book’s main characters prove to be tragic casualties of the merciless Eyes, as the events unreel … I mean, proceed.

Holly here treats the reader to any number of bravura sequences. Among them: the initial attack by an octet of the Eyes at that football game; the scene in which dozens of the townspeople, led by Linc, make their first armed foray against the Eyes; the attempt made by that zombified reactor worker to blow up the pile; Linc and Wes endeavoring to capture one of the Eyes, and subsequently learning how to withstand its hypnotic gaze; Linc’s infiltration of that subterranean lair, and his discovery of what has been going on underground; Linc’s establishing communication with one of the Eyes, and learning of the aliens’ background … and needs; and the absolutely bonkers finale, as jaw-dropping a denouement as any you’ve ever come across. And during that final scene, in which Linc tries desperately to keep his conspiratorial thoughts from being read by the telepathic aliens, I couldn’t help being reminded of the ultimate scene in the 1960 British film Village of the Damned, in which the George Sanders character faces a very similar dilemma.

The Flying Eyes, far from being a goofball experience, is absolutely levelheaded, with a bare minimum of humor. So much so, indeed, that when Linc shoots one of the Eyes with a gun and shouts “Bull’s-eye” – a potentially laughable moment – the reader does not even feel like giggling. There are no unintentionally risible moments, and the author maintains a very straight face throughout. Pleasingly, Linc’s experiences during the course of the book change him for the better. He goes from being a nearly friendless man – a man who’s never felt the need for friendship, and whom even Wes calls “an overbearing, swaggering egotist” – to something much more mature; a person ready to both give and receive love. Holly’s book is a very satisfying one; the kind of book that makes you want to read more – much more – of the given author’s work.

I should add here that I did have a few small problems with Ms. Holly’s novel. Although her writing is usually very fine (for example, I liked when she said of the book’s aliens “They were obscenities in the forest, for they were not of earth, and it was impossible to believe that they were even of God…”), her punctuation at times can be a bit … strange. Take these three sentences, for example: “If my company is that dampening, I’ll remove it,” Linc stood. “No,” Collins was fast with his refusal. “You’ve forgotten me, all of a sudden,” Wes stood up. I ask you: Is that any way to punctuate a sentence? Too, in the scene in which Linc and others are forced to manhandle the aliens, whose touch disgusts them … uh, have they never heard of these things called work gloves? And those aliens, who are capable of building starships to visit other worlds … is it credible that they would require our help to … but again, I’d better break off before giving away too much. Still, these quibbles pale into insignificance when stacked against the many fine attributes to be found in The Flying Eyes. The bottom line, I suppose, is that this book is just flat-out fun! I find myself now hearing the siren call of several other books by J. Hunter Holly. The Green Planet, for example, looks particularly interesting to me, and that is where I hope to be heading soon…

Originally published in 1962. Linc Hosier is sitting in a packed football stadium when the Flying Eyes appear and cast their hypnotic power over half the crowd. Thousand of people suddenly begin marching, zombie-like, into the woods, where they vanish into a black pit. After that, Linc uses every resource of the Space Research Lab and the National Guard to destroy the Eyes. But nothing stops them. In desperation, Linc decides to capture an Eye. When he finally manages to communicate with it, he learns that the creatures need radiation to live. And they give him an ultimatum: Earth must explode a series of atom bombs to supply them with radiation…or they will turn the world’s population into mindless robots! Given the choice between self-destruction from atomic fallout or annihilation via the sinister Flying Eyes — can Linc find a third path that will save mankind?


  • Sandy Ferber

    SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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