Seldom can the description "collection of short stories" have been applied with quite the same degree of literalness as with this 1971 compilation of tales by Ray Russell. Some of the stories contained are so short that to attempt a resume of them would be to risk employing more words in the description than the tales themslves utilize in the telling. Even the slightly longer ones have a distinctly facile feel to them. Its almost as if Russell was so enthused by the cleverness of his own ideas that he felt compelled to develop them in the most perfunctory of ways before the inspiration was lost. That is not to say that this makes them any the less enjoyable or entertaining. Russell was widely regarded as a geyser of inexhaustible inventiveness and had every right to be proud of the ideas he came up with for the stories featured here. But its impossible to read them without experiencing a degree of regret about what they might have been if only a little more time and effort had been invested in them. There are a couple of ideas here which could well have been worked up into something to rival his masterpiece "Sardonicus".
There is no especial overarching theme to the collection apart from the recurring motifs of Luciferian influence and alien infiltration. Both of these seem to be intended to be interpreted as substitutes for communist subversion; evidently a personal concern which finds a far less metaphorical treatment in the last story "Domino".
For the most part PRINCE OF DARKNESS is an eclectic smorgasbord of Science-Fiction and satire, with even an odd poetic justice murder yarn thrown in that wouldn't have looked out of place in a Robert Bloch collection. Arguably the best yarns are the title story, in which an unfaithful countess is on the receiving end of a far grimmer fate than her cuckolded husband actually intended. "The Pleasure Was Ours" speculates amusingly about the lengths a dying race would go to to perpetuate its species, and was obviously inspired by Russell's work on Playboy. Also notable is "Booked Solid" in which an actress is relentlessly pushed by her agent to follow her ambition to the ultimate hubristic end. I also really liked the stories "Incommunicado" and "Ounce of Prevention" which both concern themselves with the devices of alien conquest and annihilation.
Because of the seemingly dashed off nature of the treatments not all the stories succeed in leaving the impact that the original idea obviously promised. "His Father's House", for instance, has the great concept of a son being nagged endlessly from beyond the grave by holographic projections of his disappointed father but it doesn't amount to anything much in the end.
Nevertheless, whether the stories end in frustration or triumph its never less than fun in reading them through to find out.