Sinister Barrier

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Sinister Barrier
Sinister barrier.jpg
Dust-jacket from the first edition
Author Eric Frank Russell
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Science fiction
Publisher The World's Work, Ltd.
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback)
Pages 135
OCLC 81034269
The magazine version of Sinister Barrier was the cover story for Unknown No. 1 (1939-03)

Sinister Barrier is an English language science fiction novel by British writer Eric Frank Russell. The novel originally appeared in the magazine Unknown in 1939, the first novel to appear in its pages. It was first published in book form in 1943 by The World's Work, Ltd. Russell revised and expanded the book for its first US publication by Fantasy Press in 1948. Most subsequent editions were based on the Fantasy Press version.

Underlying premise[edit]

Russell used the ideas of Charles Fort, whom he described as "a sort of Peter Pan of science", including many of Fort’s findings in the story. In particular, he employed the idea that we humans are property of some more highly evolved beings that live in a realm that we cannot see. Those invisible beings are immaterial: they are made of energy and Russell compares them to ball lightning. How could we ever hope to revolt against such beings? Therein lies a story.


"Swift death awaits the first cow that leads a revolt against milking," wrote Swedish Professor Peder Bjornsen just before he died of a heart attack in May 2015. Bill Graham, investigating the deaths of two scientists his agency has funded, discovers that over a dozen scientists who knew each other have died recently, either by heart attack or by suicide, after appearing to go insane. With the aid of police lieutenant Art Wohl, Graham searches out other scientists who knew the men in the group and finds that they are dying as well. He finally meets a scientist who explains what’s been happening.

Professor Bjornsen had discovered a means of extending human vision into the far infrared and he discovered that the world is occupied by meter-wide spheres that appear pale blue in his new vision. The spheres, which he called Vitons, are sentient and mildly telepathic (they can read people’s minds if they get close enough); they also feed on the electrochemical energy of human emotions. If a Viton sucks too hard on a human nervous system, it causes a fatal heart attack, which is how the Vitons have been killing the scientists, in order to prevent Humanity from learning of their existence.

That knowledge, including Professor Bjornsen’s formula, is quickly spread around the world. The Vitons react by triggering an all-out world war. They enjoy a world-wide feeding frenzy as they work to regain control over their “cattle”. Chased into a hospital by a pair of Vitons, Graham and Wohl discover that the phantom vampires shy away from a machine that emits short-wave radio energy.

Given that information, researchers all over the world struggle to find a form of radio transmission that will kill Vitons. Graham continues to seek out clues, obtaining them from people that the Vitons kill. Eventually he gets the necessary information and a ray gun, built like an anti-aircraft gun, is set up and tested. Graham destroys dozens of Vitons before the gun is destroyed and he is nearly killed. All relevant information on the gun has been widely disseminated and more guns are built and put to use. Seeing Vitons being destroyed, people sober up and the war winds down. There’s a huge mess to clean up and plenty more Vitons to kill, but Humanity will prevail.


On pg 63 of the 1966 Paperback Library edition[1] Russell has one of his characters say, “The scale of electro-magnetic vibrations extends over sixty octaves, of which the human eye can see but one. Beyond that sinister barrier of our limitations, outside that poor, ineffective range of vision, bossing every man jack of us from the cradle to the grave, invisibly preying on us as ruthlessly as any parasite, are our malicious, all-powerful lords and masters – the creatures who really own the Earth!”


Fletcher Pratt, writing in The New York Times, found Sinister Barrier to be a standard adventure story with a scientific background, which moves too fast to let anyone look too closely at parts of the structure."[2] Astounding reviewer P. Schuyler Miller praised the novel as "a fast-moving adventure in which punch follows punch from beginning to end." Miller reported that Russell had made more effective use of the ideas of Charles Fort than almost any other author.[3]

Publication history[edit]

  • 1939, US, Street & Smith Publications, Inc. (Unknown, Mar 1939), Pub date March 1939, Magazine (164 pp)[4]
  • 1943. UK, The World's Work, Pub date 1943, Hardback (135 pp)[4]
  • 1948, US, Fantasy Press, Pub date 1948, Hardback (253 pp), revised and expanded, 3,084 copies[4]
  • 1950, US, World Editions, Inc.(Galaxy Science Fiction Novel #1), Pub date 1950, Paperback (158 pp), abridged[4]
  • 1952, UK, Kemsley Newspapers Ltd. (Fantasy Books, Cherry Tree Book #407), Pub date 1950, paperback (190 pp)[4]
  • 1952, France, Gallimard (Le Rayon Fantastique #10), Pub date 1952, Hardback (253 pp), as Guerre aux invisibles (War Against the Invisibles)[4]
  • 1953, Italy, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore (I Romanzi di Urania #7), Pub date 1953, Magazine (160 pp), as Schiavi degli invisibili (Slaves of the Invisibles)[4]
  • 1954, Germany, Palladium (Heidelberg; Bücher für Alle #4/11), Hardback (289 pp), as Die Todeschranke (The Death Barrier)[4][5]
  • 1957, Germany, Pabel Verlag (Utopia-Kriminal #19), Pub date 1953, Hardback (96 pp), as Die Todeschranke (The Death Barrier)[4][5]
  • 1964, Italy, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore (I Capolavori di Urania #325bis), Pub date Jan 1964, Magazine (192 pp), as Schiavi degli invisibili (Slaves of the Invisibles)[4]
  • 1964, US, Paperback Library (#52-287), Pub date May 1964, Paperback (176 pp)[4]
  • 1966, US & Canada, Paperback Library (#52-384), Pub date Dec 1966, Paperback (176 pp)[4]
  • 1967, UK, Dennis Dobson, ISBN 0-234-77989-6, Pub date Aug 1967, Hardback (254 pp)[4]
  • 1971, France, Denoël (Présence du Futur #132), Pub date Jan 1971, Paperback (220 pp), as Guerre aux invisibles (War Against the Invisibles)[4]
  • 1972, Germany, Ullstein Taschenbuch Verlag (Ullstein 2000 #30 (TB #2906)), ISBN 978-3-548-12906-8, Paperback (141 pp), as Gedanken-Vampire (Thought Vampire)[4][5]
  • 1978, Italy, Editrice Nord (Cosmo Serie Oro, Classici della Narrativa di Fantascienza #31), Pub date Feb 1978, Hardback (vi+220 pp), as Schiavi degli invisibili (Slaves of the Invisibles)[4]
  • 1979, UK, Dennis Dobson, ISBN 0-234-77507-6, Hardback (254 pp)[4]
  • 1982, Italy, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore (Classici Urania #68), #22260-4, Pub date Nov 1982, Paperback (215 pp)[4]
  • 1983, Germany, Ullstein Taschenbuch Verlag (Ullstein SF #31043), ISBN 3-548-31043-5, Pub date Jan 1983, Paperback (141 pp), as Gedanken-Vampire (Thought Vampire)[4][5]
  • 1986, US, Del Rey/Ballantine Books ISBN 0-345-32760-8, Pub date Jan 1986, Paperback (viii+230 pp)[4]
  • 1986, UK, Methuen, ISBN 0-413-58870-X, Pub date Feb 1986, Paperback (201 pp)[4]
  • 1999, France, Denoël (Présence du Futur #132), ISBN 2-207-24855-0, Pub date Feb 1999, Paperback (220 pp)[4]


  1. ^ Russell, Eric Frank, Sinister Barrier, Paperback Library (#52-384), New York, 1966
  2. ^ "In The Key of Fantasy", New York Times Book Review, November 7, 1948, p.32
  3. ^ "Book Reviews", Astounding Science Fiction, September 1949, p.151-52
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v On the Internet Speculative Fiction DataBase at (Retrieved 2014 Aug 22)
  5. ^ a b c d On Science Fiction Leihbuch Datenbank at (Retrieved 2014 Nov 17)