Wednesday, January 13, 2021

SHORT STORY WEDNESDAY: Doris Pitkin Buck: "Why They Mobbed the White House"; Kate Wilhelm: "The Planners" (ORBIT 3, edited by Damon Knight, G. P. Putnam 1968); Donald Barthelme: "Robert Kennedy Saved from Drowning"; Leonard Michaels: "Crossbones" (NEW AMERICAN REVIEW #3, edited by Theodore Solotaroff, Signet/New American Library 1968); Rod Serling: "The Escape Route" ('TIS THE SEASON TO BE WARY by Serling, Little, Brown 1967)

 

Doris Pitkin Buck is probably the most obscure writer, these years, in the third volume of Damon Knight's new-fiction anthology series Orbit...a former actor and eventually on the English faculty at Ohio State, she was among the earliest of the women writers recruited as contributors by Anthony Boucher and Mick McComas at The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and made a name for herself as much for her light verse  as her fiction for that magazine and elsewhere. I knew her granddaughter Laurel Buck slightly, when we were students at the University of Hawaii, and LB recalled DPB gathering the kids and letting them know, I hope tongue in cheek, that the flying saucers/UFOs were actually alien visitors come to help us out..."Why They Mobbed the White House" is a jovial story (distinct from certain recent events), taking the tack of the newly complex tax forms of the mid-'60s, and the increasing use of computers at the IRS and elsewhere, as jumping-off point for something a bit gentler than the typical "comic inferno" sf stories associated with Galaxy magazine and other markets in the '50s and '60s; told as a DC tour-guide's patter, it details how a certain couple found their way into the White House on the platform of having computers actually fill in rather than simply check tax forms. 

Kate Wilhelm's "The Planners" (which w0n the 1969 Nebula Award for best short story) digs a bit deeper and reads a bit heavier, while demonstrating a darker sort of wit. The planners in question include both biochemists and psychologists who use monkeys and apes (the latter including humans) as their test subjects, in seeing how injections of strains of RNA into their bodies enable...and disable...intellectual abilities...and eventually some of the subjects become planners as well. The protagonist, one of the primary researchers and a psychologist, is also consistently suffering...if that's the right word...a series of hallucinations that interact with his actual life, some seemingly simply reveries of sexual dalliance with various women, others rather more extended fantasias...he seems most grounded when exploring the nature of his relatively unhappy marriage.  The narrative slides through the various sorts of experience he has without too many indicators as to where he is departing from reality, but Wilhelm nonetheless makes it fairly clear where she wants to indicate consensus reality in the story, and where not. This story, even more than the Buck story, is indicative of the kind of literary grace the Orbit series would become famous for in its early years, in its relative departure from "realistic" prose form part of what had a number of more conservative writers and readers grumbling over its incomprehensibility...and a Nebula Awards ballot driven by the mutual admiration of a "Milford Mafia" (after the Milford Writer's Conferences Wilhelm and Knight, a married couple, were hosting by the latter '60s). 

Leonard Michaels also deals with a certain retreat from the reality of his characters', a tempestuous romantic couple's, situation, in the vignette "Crossbones"...
which might well've been inspired at least in part by his troubled first marriage, to the eventually suicidal Sylvia Bloch (Michaels is quoted in one online source as referring to her seeming at times "like a madwoman imitating a college student")...the first sentence in this very short story is a long paragraph (a man after my own heart thus). There are about seven or possibly ten sentences in the entirety, about the surreal abuse they subject each other to, and about the probable progress of the woman's father (possibly) on his machismic way over for a visit.  It's funnier if one isn't as aware of Bloch's eventual fate.

Sad fate also plays a role in "Robert Kennedy Saved from Drowning", but mostly in the string of events that led, not too long after publication, to RFK's death and, a couple of years later, to Edward Kennedy's near drowning (and not so near for Ms. Kopechne). Donald Barthelme's story apparently would've been accepted by William Shawn at The New Yorker if Barthelme was willing to change the title-character's name to something fictional, but Barthelme simply took it back and sold it to New American Review instead...I'd suggest correctly, seeing that this is, essentially, a piece of parodic fiction about how "sophisticated" magazine profiles of (particularly) political figures of RFK's position are all too often inane examples of marketing, hoping to convince the incautious or uninformed reader that every action on the part of their subject is heroic, every utterance sagacious (the one non-fictional anecdote in this "profile" occurred at a gallery, where RFK made a condescending joke about a certain painting, in the presence of the artist; Barthelme, a visual arts museum curator and journalist previous to his fiction-writing, wasn't favorably impressed). 

So...what all four of these stories are about, to one degree or another, is delusion, of the self and others. to some extent voluntarily accepted but mostly not so much. Can't imagine how they might've seemed appropriate to the times, nor that they might've found their way to reasonably avant-garde magazines in book form in 1968.






















The fifth story, Rod Serling's "The Escape Route", was one of the three newly-published novellas in his first (legitimate, not ghost-written) collection, The Season to be Wary, in 1967. Serling hoped to launch a career as a novelist, apparently (his brother, Robert Serling, had one, after all), and it, too, is about self-delusion...the fugitive concentration-camp second-in-command's delusions about his service to the Nazi regime, and his relative lack of self-delusion about his circumstances as the Nazi hunters of the 1960s are after him, in his unpleasant circumstances in Buenos Aires. Also about Serling's self-delusion that this novella (I've managed to get 20 pages in, about a third of the way through, as it was reprinted in Rod Serling's Night Gallery Reader, edited by widow Carol Serling, RS's old campus colleague Charles Waugh, and Waugh's typical editing partner Martin H. Greenberg; this trio presumably decided this novella was the least worst of the three. Sadly, while "The Escape Route" made for a decent if unsurprising segment of the Night Gallery pilot film (as I remember it from some 45 years ago), the prose of the novella can be described as passable treatment writing...clumsy, overstated, using poor word choices in the narrative passages...while the dialog, given Serling was not a novice as a playwright, isn't too shabby at all, and at times has a nice snap to it--when the preaching isn't getting a bit thick...another Serling flaw).

If not for the hour, or the nature of this day, I'd probably transcribe the first paragraph of the story...perhaps tomorrow...

For more Short Story Wednesday reviews, please see Patti Abbott's blog.  



Saturday, January 9, 2021

FRIDAY'S "FORGOTTEN" BOOKS AND MORE: the links to the reviews and related texts: 23 October 2020


This long-delayed Late October's books and more, unfairly (or sometimes fairly) neglected, or simply those the reviewers below think you might find of some interest (or, infrequently, you should be warned away from); certainly, most weeks we have a few not at all forgotten titles...if I've missed your review or someone else's, please let me know in comments.

Patricia Abbott: The End of Everything by Megan Abbott; "Doctor Jack O' Lantern" by Richard Yates (1954 ?Charm; collected in Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, 1962) and Short Story Wednesday links (read the Yates story here)

Barry Alfonso: The Grandmothers by Glenway Westcott

Mark Baker: Hot Enough to Kill by Paula Boyd

Brad Bigelow: The Hiding Place by Robert Shaw

Les Blatt: The Complete Stories by Dorothy L. Sayers; The Glimpses of the Moon by "Edmund Crispin" (Robert B. Montgomery)

Joachim Boaz: The Wind from Nowhere by J. G. Ballard

Joe Brosnan: Beat Not the Bones by Charlotte Jay

Brian Busby: Armand Durand: or, A Promise Fulfilled by Rosanna Eleanor Leprobon (translated by J.-A. Genaud)

Doug Cohen: Realms of Fantasy, December 1996, edited by Shawna McCarthy

Liz Dexter: A Bird in the Bush by Stephen Moss

Michael Dirda: New small press horror anthologies and collections for All Hallows...

Scott Edelman: Robert Shearman

Martin Edwards: No Coffin for the Grave by Clayton Rawson; Jill Patton Walsh

Peter Enfantino and Jack Seabrook: 1980s Batman comics: January 1981

Will Errickson: "Chimney" by Ramsey Campbell (first in Whispers edited by Stuart David Schiff, the 1977 first Doubleday anthology in the series that ran more or less parallel with the magazine for a number of years); "The Answer Tree" by Steven R. Boyett (Silver Scream edited by David J. Schow)

José Ignacio Escribano: The Plague Court Murders by "Carter Dickson" (John Dickson Carr)

Curtis Evans: Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories They Wouldn't Let Me Do On TV (ghost-)edited by Robert Arthur (with assistance from sponsors and NBC censors) and Friday Fright Night links; The Lake of Darkness by Ruth Rendell and Friday Fright Night links 

"Olman Feelyus": The Wooden Horse by Eric Williams; Hunting the Fairies by Compton Mackenzie

Paul Fraser: New Writings in SF: 6 edited by E. J. Carnell

Christopher Fulbright: the Zebra Books horror line

Cullen Gallagher: Razorback by Peter Brennan; Dead Man's Tide by "W. M. Richards" (Gunard Hjerstedt, novel aka It's a Sin to Kill as by "Day Keene"); We Are the Dead: Day Keene in the Detective Pulps, Volume 2 by "Day Keene" (still Hjerstedt!)

Aubrey Hamilton: Away Went the Little Fish by Margot Bennett; Practice to Deceive by David Housewright

Bev Hankins: Gorgeous Ghoul Murder Case by Dwight Babcock and other Halloween-themed titles

Grady Hendrix: Familiar Spirit and Gabriel by Lisa Tuttle

Rich Horton: Claremont Tales II and some short fiction by Richard A. Lupoff; Declare by Tim Powers; Chelsea by "Nancy Fitzgerald" (Waverly Fitzgerald); Engaging the Enemy by Elizabeth Moon

Jerry House: The Diamond Lens and Other Stories by Fitz-James O'Brien; "The Gods and Ritter Tanhuser" by "Vernon Lee" (Violet Paget); Freelance, August/September 1946, written by Ted McCall and drawn by Ed Furness

Kate Jackson: Blood from a Stone by Ruth Sawtell Wallis; Are You a Heroine in Jeopardy? quiz

Tracy K: A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny; Clarkesworld: Year 5 edited by Neil Clarke and Sean Wallace

Colman Keene: Gun in Cheek by Bill Pronzini; The Nobody by Tom Piccirilli

George Kelley: Bourbon Street/Hot Cargo by "G. H. Otis" (Otis Hemingway Gaylord)

Joe Kenney: The Rose by Leonore Fleischer; Kane's War #4: Crackdown by "Nick Stone"

Margot Kinberg: artistic desire vs. pragmatism 

Rob Kitchin: Eureka Street by Robert McLiam Wilson

Karen Langley: Penguin Modern Poets #8 by Edwin Brock, Geoffrey Hill and Stevie Smith; The Gigolo by Françoise Sagan (translated by Joanna Kilmartin); Glittering City by Cyprian Ekwensi

B. V. Lawson: Good Cop, Bad Cop by Barbara D'Amato 

Xavier Lechard: The Mystery of the Grip of Death by Jacques Futrelle; The Magic Casket by R. Austin Freeman

Des/D. F. Lewis: Powers and Presences by John Howard and Mark Valentine

Evan Lewis: "Lady Luck" by Dick French (script) and Chuck Mazoujian (art), The Spirit, 7 July 1940;  "The Girl with the Silver Eyes" by Dashiell Hammett (The Black Mask, June 1924) as serialized in the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph (December 1936) and advertised in the Allentown Morning Call (September 1938)

Steve Lewis: "Fixing Hanover" by Jeff VanderMeer (first in Extraordinary Engines, edited by Nick Gevers); Decoys by Richard Hoyt; "Beyond the Wall of Sleep" adapted from the story by H. P. Lovecraft by Steven Philip Jones and Octavio Cariello, from Lovecraft in Full Color, March 1992

Library of America: "Kerfol" by Edith Wharton, Scribner's Magazine, March 1916, edited by Robert Bridges; "The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe, Graham's Lady's and Gentlemen's Magazine, May 1842, edited by Poe; "The Black Dog" by Stephen Crane, The New York Tribune, 24 July 1892

Richard Lupoff: World Without Women by "Day Keene" and Leonard Pruyn; on Bill Crider; What If? Volume 3, edited by Richard Lupoff

Richard Lupoff, Richard Wolinsky and Lawrence Davidson: Walter Tevis

John Miller: Weird Tales, May 1923, edited by Edwin Baird

Lisa Morton and Leslie Klinger: "Marsyas in Flanders" by "Vernon Lee" (Violet Paget) (first? in For Maurice: Five Unlikely Stories)

Jess Nevins: the best science fiction of 1889

John F. Norris: The Half Pint Flask by DuBose Heyward

Jim Noy: The African Poison Murders by Elspeth Huxley

Ray O'Leary: The Boy in the Vestibule by Katherine Hall Page

Paperback Warrior: Solomon's Vineyard by Jonathan Latimer; A Piece of This Country by Thomas Taylor; Hatch's Island by Don Merritt; Satan Takes the Helm by Calvin Clements

Moira Redmond: "Casting the Runes" by M. R. James (first in More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, 1911)

Jason Steger: All That I Am by Anna Funder

G. W. Thomas: Manly Wade Wellman

Kevin Tipple: Inhuman Condition: Mystery and Suspense Fiction by Kate Thornton

David Vineyard: I, Lucifer by Peter O'Donnell

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

TAKE THIS HAMMER with James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, Janet Flanner and "Ross Macdonald" and others on THE WRITER IN AMERICA, and producer/director/editor/interviewer Richard O. Moore



                         James Baldwin in Take This Hammer

THE WRITER IN AMERICA series producer/director/editor/interviewer Richard O. Moore:


mostly discussing his 1963 National Educational Television (NET) documentary 
TAKE THIS HAMMER (based on a tour of 1963 African-American San Francisco by James Baldwin);


broadcast cut: https://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-512-2r3nv9b09w  first aired on February 4th 1964.

Other episodes in the series IMDb is aware of:
Season 1: Janet Flanner
Robert Duncan (IMDb has the wrong copy attached to this record)
Season 3Wright Morris
Season 4: John Gardner
Ross Macdonald (misspelled at IMDb)
--see below and at bottom of post for links to archived video online.

Toni Morrison on The Writer in America (sadly, Google, as owner of Blogspot and YouTube, currently at least makes it difficult to embed any video not from, you guessed it, YouTube).

Janet Flanner on The Writer in America and five more episodes linked below/at bottom of post (so far...).


Millar/"Macdonald" and Welty

On Tue, Jan 5, 2021 Paul DiFilippo noted:

 Tiny URL:


Current direct YouTube link to the Macdonald episode (as with all these episodes as currently archived, damage to the source film or perhaps video distorts the Duke Ellington Orchestra score, alas): 

Further episodes of The Writer in America (courtesy Tony Baer):

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Short Story Wednesday: Margaret St. Clair, Ed Gorman, Fritz Leiber, Robert Bloch, Manly Wade Wellman, Ambrose Bierce, Zona Gale, Elizabeth Kostova, Eileen Pollack, Nicholas Delbanco, Laura Kasischke, Keith Taylor: GHOSTS OF THE HEARTLAND edited by Frank McSherry, M. H. Greenberg & Charles Waugh (Rutledge Hill Press 1990); GHOST WRITERS edited by Laura Kasischke and Keith Taylor (Wayne State University Press 2011)

Terror and Even More Regret at the (Northerly) Center of the Contiguous 48...

Ghosts of the Heartland ed. Frank D. McSherry, Jr.Charles G. Waugh & Martin H. Greenberg (Rutledge Hill Press 1-55853-068-1, Apr ’90, $9.95, 210pp, tp, cover by Harriette Bateman) Anthology of 18 ghost stories set in the Midwest.

  • viii · Can There Be Such Things? Here? · Frank D. McSherry, Jr. · in
  • 1 · But at My Back I Will Always Hear · David Morrell · ss Shadows #6, ed. Charles L. Grant, Doubleday, 1983 (set in Iowa)
  • 18 · Death’s Door · Robert McNear · nv Playboy Mar ’69 (Wisconsin)
  • 40 · Little Jimmy · Lester del Rey · ss The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction Apr ’57 (Iowa)
  • 55 · Floral Tribute · Robert Bloch · ss Weird Tales  Jul ’49 (Illinois)
  • 67 · Stillwater, 1896 · Michael Cassutt · ss  Shadows #7, ed. Charles L. Grant, Doubleday, 1984 (Minnesota)
  • 78 · The Boarded Window · Ambrose Bierce · ss San Francisco Examiner Jul 14, 1889 (Ohio)
  • 83 · Listen, Children, Listen! · Wallace West · ss Fantastic Universe Oct/Nov ’53 (Indiana)
  • 96 · Professor Kate · Margaret St. Clair · ss Weird Tales Jan ’51 (Oklahoma)
  • 103 · The Skeleton on Round Island · Mary Hartwell Catherwood · ss Mackinac and Lake Stories, Harpers, 1899 (Michigan)
  • 113 · One for the Crow · Mary Barrett · ss Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine Mar ’73 (Missouri)
  • 122 · School for the Unspeakable · Manly Wade Wellman · ss Weird Tales Sep ’37 (North Dakota)
  • 133 · Different Kinds of Dead · Ed Gorman · ss * (first appeared here) (Nebraska)
  • 140 · Deadlights · Charles Wagner · ss Twisted Tales #9 ’84 (Kansas)
  • 149 · The Bridal Pond · Zona Gale · ss The American Mercury Feb ’28; Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine Oct ’49 (Wisconsin)
  • 155 · A Wounded Knee Fairy Tale · Craig Kee Strete · ss · Dreams That Burn in the Night, Doubleday, 1982 [published earlier in translation] (South Dakota)
  • 162 · Shaggy Vengeance · Robert Adams · nv Amazing Jul ’84 (North Dakota)
  • 187 · He Walked by Day · Julius Long · ss Weird Tales Jun ’34 (Ohio)
  • 194 · Smoke Ghost · Fritz Leiber · ss Unknown: Fantasy Fiction Oct ’41 (Illinois)
Two volumes, one taking horror and fantasy fiction set in a pretty broad definition of the US midwest, the other collecting original stories set in Michigan...one focusing on veteran writers of the fantastic (with a few comparative dabblers mixed in), the other mostly devoted to those who usually write mimetic fiction (arguably amusingly, the biggest "names" in the Michigan volume are either best-known for horror--Kostova--or have written notable borderline sf--Delbanco). All original stories in the newer book, only Ed Gorman's story newly published in the elder. Not all that surprisingly, and not just because of the similarity of setting and nature of the fiction, not too much dissimilarity of approach or result...even if the first book is much more comfortable with literal ghosts than is the second.

Among the stories in Ghosts of the Heartland:
"Smoke Ghost" by Fritz Leiber is probably the most influential and, frankly, important of the stories collected in this volume...one of the founding texts of urban fantasy and what can be termed "modern horror", fully incorporating the existential horror lessons of Lovecraft (and, in a sense, Kafka) and Lovecraft's more slavish followers into a literary context more in tune with the Edwardian and subsequent horror-fiction writers in Britain and such US fellow-travelers as Ambrose Bierce, Stephen Vincent Benet and Conrad Aiken, as well as such fellow contributors to Weird Tales and Unknown as Robert Bloch, Manly Wade Wellman, H. R. Wakefield, Algernon Blackwood, Jane Rice, Catherine L. Moore and Henry Kuttner, Theodore Sturgeon, Fredric Brown, Ray Bradbury, and Margaret St. Clair, along with other continuing innovators such as Shirley Jackson, Daphne du Maurier and John Collier. Leiber posits that the haunts of industrial Chicago, and thus the world of soot and smoke it sits in, have a new character, new demands on us, no less taxing than the ghosts of yore. The Bloch and Wellman stories are good examples of their work, as well, but less key, if also in Bloch's case from the period of his completely having moved away from writing Lovecraft pastiche and something more fully his own. The St. Clair is a consistently eerie bit of historical horror, suggesting a supernatural fate for the murderous (and mysteriously vanished shortly after discovery of their crimes) "Bender Family" of post-Civil War Kansas. The Bierce is even more a chestnut in anthologies, and for good reason (aside from public domain status), than are the Leiber, Bloch or Wellman stories. 


Less well-known are Ed Gorman's "Different Kinds of Dead", which is a suitably noirish sort of actual ghost story, and Zona Gale's interesting, allusive account of whether or not a certain couple made it past their honeymoon. I've not yet delved into the other stories in the McSherry, Greenberg and Waugh volume; McSherry, in his introduction to the book, made it clear that there were actual Benders that "Professor Kate" is about, which I didn't know till now, though I've had a copy of the January 1951 issue of Weird Tales including that story for some years, and let Prof. Kate Laity know about the story's existence shortly after purchase.

Among the stories in Ghost Writers: Elizabeth Kostova's is the story I've read so far here that most fully embraces the probable supernatural nature of its events, involving a young father and his very young kids' encounter with an avuncular man of seemingly indeterminate but variously-cited great age, who is taking full advantage of his last day of work (he notes) at a low-rent but Disney-like theme park, where every ride has its own ticket. Kostova being easily the best-known writer in the book, due to her historical horror fiction, it's somewhat unsurprising that she is least afraid of having this benevolent possible jokester and probable actual ghost lean in that direction. Nicholas Delbanco's typically eloquent prose is put in service of a consideration of historical injustice, as well as a refurbished house with raccoon squatters; Eileen Pollack's story seems likely to endorse its supernatural nature, up through a long infodump about the nature of the late, controversial priest at the heart of the narrative, but takes a turn toward the all too human monstrosities that priest both suffered and inflicted, as well as those her protagonist's family and her husband's had faced in varying ways, most tellingly during World War 2--the story so far that makes the most hay with the authoritarian "militias" arising in Michigan over the last half-century or so. 

Editors Laura Kasischke and Keith Taylor seem a bit 
more playful with the boundaries of mimetic and fantastic fiction (and Taylor with crime fiction as well); Kasischke's protagonist isn't at all sure that some very potent marijuana wasn't responsible for her vision of ghosts, one of whom is stealing one of her old dresses meant for charity donation; Taylor's involves some fairly rural and provincial teachers, in to Detroit for the day as chaperones for students on a job fair, and particularly for one a somewhat sinister passage through an art gallery and an even more sinister encounter on the drive home, shared with two colleagues. So far, in average quality in this book is at a disadvantage, not being able to tap riches going back most of a century like the other, but not so much that I won't read further in this solid anthology, as well. (Keith Taylor the co-editor isn't the Australian fantasist Keith Taylor aka "Dennis More" and other bylines, nor the English horror-adventure novelist Keith Taylor, nor even the 1940s UK fanzine editor/publisher Keith Taylor, but the Canadian-born, US writer and retired professor of English at Wayne State, I gather spoken very highly of by former student Megan Abbott, among others.)