Thursday, May 29, 2008

Friday "Forgotten" Books: Harold Q. Masur, Editor: ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS: STORIES TO BE READ WITH THE DOOR LOCKED




This almost certainly wasn't the first HITCHCOCK anthology that I read, but it is the first that I owned a personal copy of, a Doubleday Book Club edition. How could any young reader (I was 10 at the time) manage to not have their doors blown off by a selection such as this:

First edition:
Random House, 1975, USA.
Contains:
"Royal Jelly" by Roald Dahl
"Hijack" by Robert L. Fish
"Tomorrow and Tomorrow" by Adobe James
"Funeral in Another Town" by Jerry Jacobson
"A Case for Quiet" by William Jeffrey (Bill Pronzini and Jeffrey Wallman)
"A Good Head for Murder" by Charles W. Runyon
"The Invisible Cat" by Betty Ren Wright
"Light Verse" by Issac Asimov
"The Distributor" by Richard Matheson
"How Henry J. Littlefinger Licked the Hippies' Scheme to Take Over the Country by Tossing Pot in Postage Stamp Glue" by John Keefauver
"The Leak" by Jacques Futrelle
"All the Sounds of Fear" by Harlan Ellison
"Little Foxes Sleep Warm" by Waldo Carlton Wright
"The Graft is Green" by Harold Q. Masur
"View by Moonlight" by Pat McGerr
"There Hangs Death!" by John D MacDonald
"Lincoln's Doctor's Son's Dog" by Warner Law
"Coyote Street" by Gary Brandner
"Zombique" by Joseph Payne Brennan
"The Pattern" by Bill Pronzini
"Pipe Dream" by Alan Dean Foster
"Shottle Bop" by Theodore Sturgeon
"The Magnum" by Jack Ritchie
"Voices in the Dust" by Gerald Kersh
"The Odor of Melting" by Edward D. Hoch
"The Sound of Murder" by William P. McGivern
"The Income Tax Mystery" by Michael Gilbert
"Watch for It" by Joseph N. (aka Joe) Gores
"The Affair of the Twisted Scarf" by Rex Stout

I will have more to say about this volume and its brethren tomorrow, but right now I'm beat to the ground.

And here's Patti Abbott's list of links to the other Friday suggestions.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

a day like most days, only moreso, somehow

After eating brunch with Alice at the local Indian buffet, which was simultaneously hosting a large party of Russian-Americans, we came back home and watched Set It Off for the first time in a decade (not bad, but shall we say A Bit Melodramatically Stacked...but it certainly demonstrated that Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens could act), then watched the Libertarian Party nominate Bob Barr on C-SPAN, which might or might not cheer Barack Obama's people (while Mary Ruart got to be the Hillary Clinton of the LP); I mowed the lawn, and came back in to watch the (formerly Discovery) Science Channel's barely augmented simulcast of the NASA Channel's feed of the Phoenix landing, while flipping over to National Geographic Channel for Naked Science repeats on planetary astronomy matters from time to time. Seems an oddly cosmopolitan/wired day, though I haven't yet found out which LP candidate got the Veep nom.

Even without thinking about how my high school friendly acquaintance Jared Sanford's film Viva has been picked up for national distribution a year or so after its completion (it's actually more fully the baby of Jared's usual collaborator over the last decade or so, Anna Biller, mildly famous for very colorful and over the top productions of varying lengths), and wondering if the pickup was sparked by CBS's picking up the dramatic hour Swingtown, set in the same time and with an apparently not altogether different attitude (both about the suburban sexual loosening of the 1970s in the US)...and what, if anything, made these two events likely...the "key party" episode of Journeyman? The imminence of the US version of Life on Mars (an arguable 1970s time-travel drama, at least in its UK original playing on BBC America)? An attempt on following up on the contemporary Little Children and Shortbus with something harkening back to The Ice Storm, or someone noting that That '70s Show was over?

Or maybe I'm just croggled that, for example, my three best friends from my years in New Hampshire can all be traced online...two are varying sorts of engineer, albeit one is more visible through an incidental mention of trying to sell his house in Massachusetts, in a New York Times real estate section article, and through his beer reviews (the other is a partner in engineering firm), and one has had some troubles coping with homosexuality and its implications and is now a counselor trying to help people stop being gay (heavy implications all around). I remember as one of our best times as doing a reading of Friedrich Durrenmatt's The Meteor together (in translation, we weren't quite that impressive at 13), for no particular reason other than I happened to have a copy with me (I also read Gregory Benford's "In Alien Flesh" that morning while waiting for the others to wake up, on that sleepover in August, 1978, since the story was in the September issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and surely that put an odd spin on the day already). Whereas my next set of friendly acquaintances from those years are utterly invisible on the web. It's an odd old world...in this new world.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Friday "Forgotten" Books: Lee Hoffman: Trouble Valley

I don't know about you, but sometimes I read authors in a jag. I read most of Kurt Vonnegut's then-available novels in a string over a couple of months in the latter 1980s, having read only The Sirens of Titan (his best sf novel), Galapagos, and Cat's Cradle and the essay and short story collections beforehand, and it was time to dig in. That's how I know Bluebeard is the best of his contemporary mimetic novels, although Rosewater and the near-past historical Mother Night give it a run. I read about half of Theodore Sturgeon's collections, before the "Sturgeon Project" complete short-fiction reprints began, in the same way, having read most of the rest of Sturgeon's work sporadically over the previous two decades...and Sturgeon and Vonnegut share more than the mutual paternity of Kilgore Trout...a deep and knowing and rarely naive humanism runs through their work. As it does through the work of Ms. Lee Hoffman, RIP in 2007 and not hardly forgotten herself in several circles, but her books, if Amazon can be trusted, are almost all out of print...there's a pricey large-print edition of WILD RIDERS out, and another title coming soon in a LP edition, and her collection of essays In and Out of Quandry might still be available directly from NESFA Press, some examples of her personal journalism from her groundbreaking 1950s fanzine and elsewhere. But I read the simple majority of her 17 western novels in a jag in 1994, having read her impressive sf short story "Soundless Evening" in Again, Dangerous Visions as a kid, and having known she'd written some other impressive fantastic fiction, but was perhaps best known literarily for her western fiction...her fourth novel to be published, and first hardcover, The Valdez Horses (Doubleday, 1967), had won the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America, and had been (apparently acceptably if unexceptionally) filmed a decade later as a project for Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland. Haven't seen the film, but read the book...in fact, take on all her novels, and note how she starts out as good as anyone could want (she had already been a veteran not only of sf fan publishing, but an assistant editor at her ex Larry Shaw's magazines, and a notable zinester in the folk-music scene), in lighter or darker modes from book to book, but by her mid-1970s novels, of which Trouble Valley is one, she had achieved a practiced grace and a lean manner of slipping in the compassionate detail that helped spoil me for lesser western fiction...the protagonist of this one is not only doing his damnedest to end the conflict with his aggressive neighbors, but to do it as amicably as possible, and Hoffman delivers more tension and less melodrama, more detail to character and realistic description of human interaction than almost anyone else working in the field...this book (and its mates) read like less eccentrically-detailed Joe Lansdale westerns, or Bill Pronzini's without the slightly formal stiffness that can creep into his historical work when he lets it. Ed Gorman and Loren Estleman are in her league, too, which gives you some idea...and at least two much better-selling, largely in-print western writers couldn't come close to what she could do. But that shouldn't surprise anyone.

The Lee Hoffman Site: http://cvil.wustl.edu/~gary/Lee/


As always, thanks to Patti Abbott for sustaining the Friday Books lists. Buy Ed Gorman (and MH Greenberg)'s new volume of best of the year crime fiction to get a sense of what she can do.

(Possibly "forgotten" music audited while writing this one: the George Russell Smalltet: Jazz Workshop [1956, RCA]...the album where Bill Evans learned about modal improvising from Russell, so he eventually could teach it to the Miles Davis group, and they did Kind of Blue as a result. Jazz Workshop's better.)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

in response to EW's "Skin Games"

http://www.ew.com/ew/gallery/0,,20199443,00.html

Well, Entertainment Weekly apparently polled somebody about the most gratuitous nudity on television, Not that there's anything wrong with it, as nearly all their respondents were quick to point out. Aside from being at least as heavily weighted toward beefcake as cheesecake (good in terms of fairness, if somewhat lacking in visceral appeal for me), it did put me in mind of

The most integral (and obviously intentional) nudity (mostly if not entirely female) that comes to mind from US broadcast television (because cable's too easy) viewing over the years:

1. CBS Reports episode "The Japanese" (1969). Edwin O. Reischauer hosted a Peabody Award-winning hour on CBS giving us a look at Japan, including a brief tour of the Tokyo red light district, and one illuminated sign sign displayed a woman utterly nude, although her hands covered only her pubic area, in accordance with Japanese obscenity law of the time (everything goes except clear view of pubic hair or genitals). Rather startling on broadcast at that time, and I'm sure someone in the Nixon White House hoped to make some hay with it. But I suppose it was taken as a sort of National Geographic-style bit of anthropology.

2. PBS Hollywood Theater episode "Steambath" (1973). Everyone remembers Bruce Jay Friedman's play, even if they only remember it for Valerie Perrine.

2a. National Geographic episode "The Incredible Machine" (1975). The first episode of National Geographic to appear on PBS (after stints on all three of the other national networks) was the highest-rated broadcast on PBS for some time, was released cinematically and nominated for an Oscar, and, most startlingly to me at the time, begins with a nude artists' model on display before getting around to its more revolutionary inside the body photography. Perhaps it's worth noting that with the exception of Perrine, nearly all the women cited here up till the mid-'80s are not Caucasian (the model is of East Asian ancestry) or are hapa in "City Lovers" (or "Coloured" as South Africa used to be careful to note). And the photography all but pioneered in this documentary would later be refined for another, later source of occasional, if utterly unsexy (except to a very specialized audience), US network nudity, CSI (even as late a several years ago, unclothed cadavers were surviving in syndicated repeats of the early episodes...I suspect this is not the case any longer).

3. Roots (1976). ABC and Wolper Productions must've decided that slaves fell under Nat Geo anthropology aegis, as well, given a few scenes in this miniseries.

4. Nadine Gordimer Stories episode "City Lovers" (1982). A syndicated package to US public broadcasting stations, this was only the most sexually-explicit of the episodes I saw repeated throughout the 1980s...and a devastating one, as one could correctly infer about the abuses of power that were part and parcel of South African apartheid (and sadly not that insane system alone).

5. Great Performances episode "The Ebony Tower" (1984). John Fowles's story is given ham-handed treatment here (and might only deserve such), with Laurence Olivier not quite at his The Betsy nadir, but not actually good, either...but the display of Toyah Willcox and particularly of Greta Scacchi is, shall we write, memorable. I note belatedly that John Mortimer directed this imported telefilm...I suspect the story demands a rather obvious treatment, but I haven't read it yet. (I suppose some mention of such earlier imports as the Eastern Educational Network's syndication to public stations starting in 1975 of Monty Python's Flying Circus, with Carol Cleveland's occasional relevant scenes and Terry Gilliam's intentionally campy animations [and, to be evenhanded, the tendency of the two Terrys particularly to shed clothing], and of the various bits of James Burke's Connections [imported by PBS in 1980] that pertain here.)

6. Masterpiece Theatre episodes "The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders" (1996). Not to be confused with the Moll Flanders theatrical film released the same year, this is the miniseries, imported like much of PBS's programming from the UK, featuring Alex Kingston in the title role, not long before her turn on ER. Perhaps the most sexually explicit of the Masterpiece Theatres, apparently uncut from its UK run, and precisely the sort of thing that PBS is terrified of displaying today, with a predatory FCC still in power (one of the smaller crimes of the current Bush Admin).

Such incidental bits as the actually gratuitous display of a young woman's bare breasts on Chicago Hope (CBS, 1996) or even the emergence of from the bathtub of a young adolescent girl in an episode of PBS's anthology series Visions (which was telecast when I was about the actress's age, and it was much appreciated by me at the time, sometime in 1978) were comparitively fleeting or singular. And, of course, there was NYPD Blue; despite the comments of one of my less charitable colleagues at TV Guide, Charlotte Ross, subject of the last and only FCC-pursued example of nudity on that series, looked fine.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday "Forgotten" Books: Jorge Luis Borges: THE ALEPH, AND OTHER STORIES 1933-1969 (as translated by Borges and NT DiGiovanni)

Now if there's any writer who isn't particularly forgotten, at least among Latin American writers among Anglophone readers, Jorge Luis Borges is perhaps more unforgotten than any other except Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the wonderful set of translations of his work that Borges engaged in with Norman Thomas DiGiovanni, published by E. P. Dutton in the US in the late '60s and throughout the 1970s, have been out of print at least since shortly after Borges's death. It seems DiGiovanni had a contract that was Very favorable to him in terms of royalties, and Borges's heirs were not willing to play along...so largely inferior translations have been issued since, such as the Collected Fictions and Collected Nonfiction volumes, along with the mixed bag of translations, such as Labyrinths and Dreamtigers, which had been translated by others and issued before Borges and NTDG began their project.

The Aleph, and Other Stories 1933-1969 has the unfair advantage of being a survey of some of Borges's most important fiction, when compared to such other excellent collections as The Book of Sand or Doctor Brodie's Report (the stories in the last in collaboration with Adolfo Bioy-Casares). The story that made JLB's reputation, "Streetcorner Man" (or "El hombre de las esquinas rosadas"--the pinkness of the streetcorners being indicative of their unsavory neighborhood) is included in a new translation, and Borges is as unimpressed with this early effort as such writers as Robert Bloch or Isaac Asimov were with their own first Big Splashes. But his brilliance was already being hinted at, at least, and the Argentine westerns and crime fiction, the earthily grounded and even autobiographical fantasies (Borges was justly proud of the title story, beyond its parallels with Dante), and the long, fine autobiographical essay make this easily the most ncessary single volume of Borges's work in translation among those I've read, even considering the larger number of his more famous stories in Labyrinths and the atrocious Fictions volume.

We can only hope that these translations will eventually be made widely available again.

Here's the link to the Patti Abbott listings of title and links.


And her advice (and the list as it was a couple of hours ago):

And hey, go look at the complete reviews. These people have a lot of interesting stuff to say.

David Terrenoire, Cruddy, Lynda Barry
Sarah Weinman, The Late Man, James Preston Girard
Tom Piccirilli, The Hunter, Richard Stark (Donald Westlake)
Travis Erwin, The Me I Used to Be, Jennifer Archer
Bookwitch, Sapper, Herman Cyril McNeile
James Reasoner, The Siamese Twin Mystery, Ellery Queen
Megan Powell, Cuckoo's Egg, C.J. Cherryh
Bill Crider, The Night Remembers, Ed Gorman
Declan Burke, Wild at Heart, Barry Gifford
Kirsty, Other Stories and Other Stories, Ali Smith
Jeff Shelby, The Standoff, Chuck Hogan
Shauna Sturge, Crossfire, Jeanette Windle
Steve Allan, Splinters of the Mind's Eye, Alan Dean Foster
Ed Gorman, The Kidnappers, Robert Bloch and 361 by Donald Westlake
Baglady, The Crystal Cave, Mary Stewart
Kevin Burton Smith, The January Corpse by Neil Albert

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Hapa time

Hapa is the Hawaiian word for half, and it's come into use to describe someone who springs from a union that is of a parent of one ethnicity and the other another...as in "hapa-haole," "half-stranger" literally and "half-Caucasian" in practice, first used to describe the kids from the earliest most common sort of union between Hawaiians and visitors to their archipelago. My (hapa) friend Keiko (of multi-gen German-American and first-gen Japanese-American ancestry) and I were bemoaning the premature cancellation of the fine NBC science-fantasy series Journeyman, which co-starred hapa actress Moon Bloodgood (who had previously co-starred in the similarly good, similarly strangled time-travel fantasy series Daybreak on ABC the summer before). "It was so nice to see a[n Asian-Caucasian] hapa actress on every week," Keiko mentioned...which immediately made me realize that we have a plethora of hapa actresses on television these days, even more when we count those not quite acting, such as Attack of the Show co-host Olivia Munn or NBC news anchor/reporter Ann Curry, vastly more regularly seen on US tv, at least, than we see of women or men of "purely" Asian ancestry...and a few more of hapa African/Caucasian descent, such as Rashida Jones (of The Office). I came up with a list of about twenty names, and it just grew and grew, even if a few, such as Lexa Doig (late of Andromeda), aren't currently regulars on a show in production...a few who weren't at that time, such as Lindsay Price (now on Lipstick Jungle) have gotten a new regular gig (meanwhile, one of the most prominent "purely" Asian-American actresses on US tv lost her similar gig, Lucy Liu on Cashmere Mafia).

France Nuyen, the most prominently-featured hapa actress on 1960s US television (and the 1960s were for some reason the most friendly decade for Asian-Americans on television, at very least till the current one) clearly has blazed a trail. I suspect the 1960s saw a Lot more Asian-Americans in series than the 1970s and 1980s, with the often weak exceptions of M*A*S*H and Hawaii Five-0 and the almost purely Cauc Magnum, PI, because they could be seen as both wildly exotic and remarkable in their American-ness, when someone needed to make a point about how we were all Americans together...and Asian-Am actors could be used to make African-American actors, most obviously Bill Cosby in the first season of I Spy, that much more all-American by contrast.

But it is something...as we might be seeing a hapa US President soon, and almost certainly a hapa nominee from the Democratic Party, a little more hapa consciousness might spread around.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Friday "forgotten" book: Gary Jennings's THE LIVELY LIVES OF CRISPIN MOBEY

Here's the Locus Index's accounting of this book, easily the most obscure title by bestselling writer Gary Jennings after he began publishing his string of huge successes, including Aztec and Spangle:

The Lively Lives of Crispin Mobey (as by) Gabriel Quyth (Macmillan Atheneum 0-689-12023-0, Oct ’88 [Feb ’89], $18.95, 243pp, hc) [Crispin Mobey]; Humorous fantasy fix-up novel of nine stories featuring missionary Crispin Mobey. Quyth is a pseudonym for Gary Jennings. Published in 1988 but not seen until 1989.

1 · Sooner or Later or Never Never [as by Gary Jennings] · nv F&SF May ’72
39 · Kingdom Come [as by Gary Jennings] · nv F&SF Jan ’78
66 · Lhude Sing Cuccu! [as by Gary Jennings] · nv F&SF Sep ’77
93 · Let Us Prey [as by Gary Jennings] · nv F&SF Jun ’78
117 · Be Jubilant My Feet! [as by Gary Jennings] · ss F&SF Dec ’78
142 · Ignis Fatuus [as by Gary Jennings] · ss F&SF Sep ’79
169 · P.U. · ss
193 · Homo Sap [as by Gary Jennings] · nv F&SF Mar ’79
217 · Not with a Bang But a Bleep [as by Gary Jennings] · nv F&SF Jun ’77

Now, I have to admit I've never held a copy of this book, so I believe I've never been able to read the story "P.U." (the comedy of humors rules OK in these stories...one memorable bit has the Reverend discover, much to his immediate chagrin, The Kindergarten Guide to Gonorrhea, the first page of which is inevitably "See Dick run"). You will not be surprised to learn that old P.U. is our bumptious missionary protagonist's alma mater, as I remember it...for I read all the Mobey stories I could find in back issues and as they were published in '78 and later in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Jennings, who like Richard McKenna, Allan Eckert and Michael Shaara before him was a no-two-ways about it fantasy and sf writer before Hitting Big with historical fiction, the next field over in one direction, also published such wonderful, terrifying fiction as "How We Pass the Time in Hell" in F&SF (November 1971, for that one) and elsewhere (well, "How..." certainly made an impression on young me, with its ultraviolet humor and bleak invention).

Mobey, of the SoPrim or Southern Primitive Baptist Church, can't help but stumble upon outre or utterly supernatural phenomena in his attempt to somewhat hamhandedly spread the good word, misunderstanding as much of what's going on around him as he possibly can most of the time. Jennings apparently didn't think his bestseller audience was quite ready for the caustic portrayal of religion and so much else in these stories, so he published the book under that odd pseudonym, and Atheneum apparently did little to draw much attention to the book, even with a coy Guess-Who campaign.

I certainly would've bought a copy back when. And, if one can be had reasonably, might yet soon.

The other Friday Forgotten Books are findable at Patti Abbott's blog, here.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Overlooked films--one half-good, one joyously bad

Steve Allan (not the late television guy) inspired Patti Abbott to post about Do the Right Thing by posting about Evolution, but this meme has yet to take flight (or am I confusing memes with nenes, a sort of goose...). A good enough excuse for me to cite two films, to help thicken the stew...

Prime Cut is a film that could've been champeen, nevermind contender. Directed by Michael Ritchie as his second feature, after the overrated but beautiful Downhill Racer and just before the brilliant The Candidate and a string of films nearly as good (The Bad News Bears brought home the groceries), and written by the even more uneven Robert Dillon, Prime Cut features a great cast (Gregory Walcott got to show what he could do when working with the likes of Lee Marvin, Gene Hackman, and the debuting Sissy Spacek) and a story that turns Deliverance inside out...instead of suburbanites venturing into the evils of the rural/natural, mobsters out of the big city, Chicago in this case, have go down to the outskirts/suburbs of Kansas City to deal with a megalomaniacal sort who's setting up his own empire (did you guess that was Hackman's character? Gold star.). The problem, as far as this film goes, isn't so much what's bizarre and semi-mythic about it, but how haphazard it is...its releasing company, National General, was collapsing as it was being made, and I suspect the hastily-edited, throw in all the footage you shot feel of the film at various points was the result of a desperate desire by NG and/or its creditors to get some sort of money out of the project before the offices were shuttered. A sequence that involves the interaction of the Chicago mobsters' limo and a thresher/bailer just goes on and on...it's somewhat hypnotic, but clearly this is not how the finished work was going to be. A rather awkward sequence where Lee Marvin's character escorts the nearly nude Sissy Spacek into a restaurant stretches and stretches...it still manages to be less preciously pseudo-rebellious than a similar sequence in Flashdance, but as presented in this less than prime cut, only slightly less.

As a whole film, it's still a hell of a thing to see. You just wish Ritchie had been able to finish it. (I'm pretty sure I saw this first as a kid on something like the CBS Late Movie, wherein the fairly frequent nudity would've been cut, and perhaps even more footage spliced in...or perhaps the tv edit might actually resemble what was hoped for originally, but I somehow doubt that.).

This clip is Not office-friendly.



Prime Cut - video powered by Metacafe


Nor this one:


Sissy Spacek - Janit Baldwin - MyVideo

The terrible, hilarious film is The Explosive Generation. I have to thank Bill Crider for digging out a compound trailer for this and another film...I saw TEG for the first time on late night television as a teen in Hawaii, and if you don't think William Shatner as an idealistic youngish sex-ed teacher, doing his best to Relate to the kids in the kind of film that Mort Sahl characterized as always having a scene where at a meeting of parents one arises to announce, "I just want to say that I'm going to call my kids now, and ask for their forgiveness!"...if you don't think that sounds like bad fun on a grand scale, I have to tell you to think again. In that it's mildly exploitive while theoretically on the kids' side was a stroke of minor genius, and I'm surprised the film didn't do any better than it did...perhaps the similarly goofy TheBlackboard Jungle did so well in comparison because it was earlier by several years, but no fresher, and hostile to the kids, who got to be Kool Rebels, just like that Flashdance welder-stripper.

This is the dual trailer that Bill has up, also advertising a British film called That Kind of Girl, which was classed up for the US (no doubt drive-in) market as Teen Age Tramp: (and has since been taken down by YouTube, so here's this):



And a long clip, which The Onion's AV Club wants you to note features a boom mike that no one thought worthy of reframing out of the final edit...

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Most annoying television theme songs that come to mind:

In the order they occur to me:

1. Everyday A syndicated morning chat show, as I remember, which was utterly forgettable, and had the theme song that should've indicated that--endless repeating of the word "Everyday" in three-note ascending and descending series. Took the composer perhaps five minutes...and they asked the audience to sing along with it at show's close.

2. What's Happening!! Boiing!!! (the second-worst sitcom, at least of any durability, in the US in the 1970s, which probably doesn't help my assessment, any more than does the two, not one nor three exclamation points...but the theme is just offensive.)

3. Three's Company Theme to the worst durable sitcom of the 1970s in the US, it's a fairly innocuous tune, except that it's cloying and a misleading come-on for the horrors to follow.

4. Charles in Charge (original theme) Creepy lyrics ("I want Charles in charge of me!") set to a bad ripoff of the Bangles' "Dover Beach."

5. WKRP in Cincinnati (second theme) Also just a bit cloying, but would also slip by as innocuous if it hadn't supplanted the fine, goofy, incoprehensible original theme, which was preserved as the closing theme.

Remarkable how few truly awful themes we have these days. Perhaps all the bad composers are working, with the good ones, on videogames.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, the Ed Hoch Memorial Issue

You might just need the June, 2008, issue of EQMM...it's their memorial issue for Ed Hoch, and includes reminisces from a number of writers and editors along with one of the last stories, though not the last, in Hoch's unbroken string of contributions to every issue since 1973 (Hoch had contributed regularly going back into the '60s, after first selling to Robert Lowndes's magazines in the late '50s). I met him at the 2001 World Crime Fiction Convention, the BoucherCon, in the Virginia DC suburbs only weeks after 9/11, and he was a complete gentleman, as everyone else's testimony seems to agree (you don't get too many criticisms under these circumstances, but the worst I've ever heard about him was that he tended to include one of his own stories in the volumes of the series of the Year's Best CF stories he edited for a couple of decades...may this be the worst anyone can say about any of us).

Hoch's story in the issue is made slightly unbelievable by featuring an insurance detective who chooses not, at this late date, to have a cell phone of his own, though it's a decent example of what Hoch did; Peter Lovesey likewise contributes a typical, not the best, example of his usual work, unbelievable but amusing enough in its tale of a Regular Bloke sucked into impersonating a thug, who manages to do so Very Well indeed; things look up with a typically unmelodramatic Clark Howard and an amusing conceit involving a Nero Wolfe wannabe (in a world where there already is a Nero Wolfe in the copious flesh) by Loren D. Estleman. That's as far as I've gotten with the fiction, so far, but as usual Bill Crider and Jon Breen's columns are helpful, deft, and could be longer.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Friday "Forgotten" Book: Avram Davidson: THE ENQUIRIES OF DOCTOR ESZTERHAZY

A collection of historical fantasies that might just barely brush up against sf fleetingly...


The Enquiries of Doctor Eszterhazy might just be the most brilliant book the most brilliant Avram Davidson saw published...and, of course, it was published as a paperback original (Warner Books, 1975) with little support and in a clumsy package, egregiously mislabeled "science fiction" (although as historical fantasies, the linked stories within touch on sf from time to time). Currently in print only in the expanded small press edition The Adventures of Doctor Eszterhazy, the earlier edition is in several ways preferable...most importantly because the later stories Davidson wrote involving the extremely learned Doctor were slighter and a bit less inventive on balance, still good but not as lapidary and achingly Right as the earlier set. Also, the typesetting leaves a bit to be desired in the newer book, which at least is a well-built hardcover. But to know Eszterhazy is to want to have all the stories, so one must eventually have the Adventures; it's simply a pity that circumstances so rarely rewarded Davidson well enough for him to consistently do the work of which he was capable.

Eszterhazy is a sort of Holmesian figure, only both more accomplished and yet also more believable; his efforts on behalf of the small Mitteleuropean nation in which he resides usually at very least brush him up against the supernatural. These stories, some of the best work ever published in those great fiction magazines Whispers, Fantastic and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, display the ready wit, the easily-incorporated erudition, the passionate love of life and play, and the weary disappointment in the worst in humanity that Davidson's other best work displays, only rarely as concentratedly as in these accounted investigations. If you let them, these stories will educate you, amuse you, surprise you, break your heart occasionally, take your breath away at least as often.

I remember well sitting in the lobby of Discovery Bay, a condo tower in Waikiki, having both just moved in 1979 to Hawaii and discovered affordable back issues of Fantastic and others at a secondhand store called Froggies, reading "The Church of Saint Satan and Pandaemons," in an anniversary issue of Fantastic. The chair wasn't overwhelmingly comfortable, and I would jump a bit from time to time when someone would come in through the front door or knock to beg entrance past the expensive lock; I was down in the lobby to get some peace and quiet while my parents and brother watched television in the one-bedroom apartment we survived throughout that summer, with my then 7yo brother and I sharing the foldout couch bed in the living room. Didn't matter...the allusive, often hilarious, deeply strange narrative of Davidson's was easily the highlight of the issue. His non-Eszterhazy "Hark! Did I Hear the Squeal of an Angry Thoat?" in another, later Fantastic in my stash was nearly as good, even more improvisational and seemingly haphazard--the character of John Carter appears suddenly at the end, as one might guess from the Burroughsian title, but until that time it has been a nostalgic romp through mid-20th century New York City--but one feels the extra jolt with the Esterhazy stories of an author gently parodying as well as sympathetically representing himself with his protagonist.

They are necessary reading, and have only appeared in collected form in two rather obscure editions.

(This is another response to a Patti Abbott challenge, to cite a book in serious danger of being forgotten. See links to other answers to the call here, where Patti is also proudly hailing her daughter Megan Abbott's win of an Edgar Award for her novel Queenpin, and well she might!)

Avram Davidson was also an Edgar Award-winner, in fact the first person to have won both the Edgar and Hugo awards, and perhaps the first to have won both of those and the Howard (though his occasional collaborator Harlan Ellison might've beat him to that punch...I first became aware of Davidson through the Ellison in collaboration collection Partners in Wonder). Davidson's most fully-realized novel is also one with a modest publication history, Masters of the Maze; since his death, his ex-wife but lifelong friend and occasional collaborator Grania Davis, a talented writer in her own right, has made an effort to get nearly all of Davidson's work back into print, with impressive collections of his crime fiction and his tales of contemporary Jewish-American life as well as his fantasies, horrors and sf...most recently a collection of his similarly brilliant tales of an expatriate American finding odd things indeed in an alternate Guyana, Limekiller!.

And I've just discovered that the Eszterhazy story "The Odd Old Bird" was collected in neither book...now, I have yet another grail...

***and another Late Bulletin! Hot on the heels of Megan Abbott's 1 May win of the Best Paperback Original Novel Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, Patti Abbott on 2 May herself picks up the vignette Derringer Award from the Short Mystery Fiction Society...it's a good week to be a writing Abbott, and, of course, since awards are only as good as the recipients they're given to, both awards have been elevated as well...here's the winning story, "My Hero."