Thursday, May 21, 2009

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: PRIZE STORIES OF 1949: THE O. HENRY AWARDS edited by Herschel Brickell (Doubleday 1949)

From the introduction:

Miss [Eudora] Welty: "I think [Shirley Jackson's] 'The Lottery' probably charges too much for the show inside, whatever it is; it gave me the feeling that I was listening to smart talk from a platform out front (I guess this makes me a wary hick)."

Among the trio comprising the Prize panel, Welty and Ray B. West, Jr. didn't think nearly as much of the Jackson, easily the best known story in this volume today, as did New York Herald Tribune book reviewer John Hutchens, who "thought it the best story in the book." Hence, "The Lottery" lost out in the "prize" competition, to William Faulkner's "A Courtship," Mark Van Doren's "The Watchman," and the now obscure Ward Dorrance's "The White Hound." Brickell himself is of two minds about the story, but one doesn't doubt him when he suggests earlier in the introduction that he considers this one of the best, if not the best, of the nine volumes of the series he'd edited to this time.

ix Introduction Herschell Brickell
1 A Courtship William Faulkner (Seewanee Review, 1948)
17 The Watchman Mark Van Doren (Yale Review 1949)
30 The White Hound Ward Dorrance (Hudson Review 1948)

--more to come as the day progresses, including an amusing quotation from J.D. Salinger, whose "Just Before the War with the Eskimos" is also included...

For more complete FFB entries, pleas see Patti Abbott's blog today, and check back here later for more and better if so inclined. Thanks!

Meanwhile, for purposes of contrast, here's Martha Foley's Best American Short Stories selection from 1948 publications, from the Contento Index and assembled by Dennis Lien:

The Best American Short Stories
1949 ed. Martha Foley (Houghton Mifflin, 1949, hc); [DKL]
1 · Mighty, Mighty Pretty · George Albee · ss Story Sum ’48
19 · The Vacation · Livingston Biddle, Jr. · ss Cosmopolitan Jun ’48
39 · The Farmer’s Children · Elizabeth Bishop · ss Harper’s Bazaar Feb ’48
48 · Under the Sky · Paul Bowles · ss The Partisan Review Mar ’48
55 · My Father and the Circus · Frank Brookhouser · ss The University of Kansas City Review Aut ’48
60 · Exodus · Borden Deal · ss Tomorrow May ’48
72 · Small Miracle · Adele Dolokhov · ss Today’s Woman Nov ’48
81 · The White Hound · Ward Dorrance · ss The Hudson Review Sum ’48
94 · Li Chang’s Million · Henry Gregor Felsen · ss Woman’s Day Nov ’48
100 · Departure of Hubbard · Robert Gibbons · ss Tomorrow May ’48
106 · In the Flow of Time · Beatrice Griffith · ss Common Ground Aut ’48
117 · Evenings at Home · Elizabeth Hardwick · ss The Partisan Review Apr ’48
127 · Castle of Snow · Joseph Heller · ss Atlantic Monthly Mar ’48
135 · A Sound in the Night · Ruth Herschberger · ss Harper’s Bazaar Apr ’48
149 · Jerry · Laura Hunter · ss Mademoiselle Aug ’48
157 · Of the River and Uncle Pidcock · Jim Kjelgaard · ss Adventure Nov ’48
166 · Footnote to American History · Roderick Lull · ss The Virginia Quarterly Review Spr ’48
179 · The Vault · T. D. Mabry · ss The Kenyon Review Win ’48
193 · Vacia · Agnes Macdonald · ss Accent Aut ’48
205 · The Men · Jane Mayhall · ss Perspective Sum ’48
212 · The Heifer · Patrick Morgan · ss Atlantic Monthly Jul ’48
219 · All Prisoners Here · Irving Pfeffer · ss Harper’s May ’48
238 · Episode of a House Remembered · John Rogers · ss Wake Spr ’48
248 · A Girl I Knew · J. D. Salinger · ss Good Housekeeping Feb ’48
261 · Justice Has No Number [Bastia] · Alfredo Segre · nv EQMM Apr ’48
285 · An Island for My Friends · Madelon Shapiro · ss Bard Review May ’48
295 · Children Are Bored on Sunday · Jean Stafford · ss New Yorker Feb 21 ’48
305 · Road to the Isles · Jessamyn West · ss New Yorker Feb 21 ’48

--You'll note the similarity of content in many instances: the Dorrance, a different Salinger, a different Stafford (but both writers represented twice)...

Also notable, the greater eclecticism of the Foley sources (for which she was criticized by some reviewers/carpers...not the major pulp magazine Adventure is represented, as is the literate digest Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and a mix of slick (largely women's when not gender-neutral "intellectual") and little magazines. Bordon Deal went on to write some memorable crime fiction, though his Tomorrow story probably wasn't one.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: BLOOD RUNS COLD and PLEASANT DREAMS by Robert Bloch

The Contento Index:

Blood Runs Cold, stories by Robert Bloch (Simon & Schuster, 1961, $3.50, 246pp, hc); Also in pb (Popular Oct ’62).
· The Show Must Go On · ss Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine Jan ’60
· The Cure · ss Playboy Oct ’57
· Daybroke · ss Star Science Fiction Magazine Jan ’58
· Show Biz · ss EQMM May ’59
· The Masterpiece · ss Rogue Jun ’60
· I Like Blondes · ss Playboy Jan ’56
· Dig That Crazy Grave! · ss EQMM Jun ’57
· Where the Buffalo Roam · ss Other Worlds Jul ’55
· Is Betsy Blake Still Alive? · ss EQMM Apr ’58
· Word of Honor · ss Playboy Aug ’58
· Final Performance · ss Shock Sep ’60
· All on a Golden Afternoon · nv F&SF Jun ’56
· The Gloating Place · ss Rogue Jun ’59
· The Pin · ss Amazing Dec ’53/Jan ’54
· I Do Not Love Thee, Doctor Fell · ss F&SF Mar ’55
· The Big Kick · ss Rogue Jul ’59
· Sock Finish · nv EQMM Nov ’57 

Contents of the original edition, courtesy the Contento Index...
Pleasant Dreams Robert Bloch (Arkham House, 1960, $4.00, 233pp, hc)
  • · Sweets to the Sweet · ss Weird Tales Mar ’47
  • · The Dream Makers · nv Beyond Fantasy Fiction Sep ’53
  • · The Sorcerer’s Apprentice · ss Weird Tales Jan ’49
  • · I Kiss Your Shadow · ss F&SF Apr ’56
  • · Mr. Steinway · ss Fantastic Apr ’54
  • · The Proper Spirit · ss F&SF Mar ’57
  • · Catnip · ss Weird Tales Mar ’48
  • · The Cheaters · nv Weird Tales Nov ’47
  • · Hungarian Rhapsody [as by Wilson Kane] · ss Fantastic Jun ’58
  • · The Light-House · ss Fantastic Jan/Feb ’53; completed by Bloch from a Poe fragment.
  • · The Hungry House · ss Imagination Apr ’51
  • · Sleeping Beauty [originally published as“The Sleeping Redheads”] · ss Swank Mar ’58
  • · Sweet Sixteen [originally published as “Spawn of the Dark One”] · ss Fantastic May ’58
  • · That Hell-Bound Train · ss F&SF Sep ’58
  • · Enoch · ss Weird Tales Sep ’46

And (courtesy of The Unofficial Robert Bloch Website) of the much later 1980 Jove/HBJ paperback edition (with stories included in more recent collections removed, and some from his unreprinted first collection, The Opener of the Way, Arkham House, 1945, added):

Sweets to the Sweet
The Dream-Makers
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
I Kiss Your Shadow
The Proper Spirit
The Cheaters
Hungarian Rhapsody
The Light-House
The Hungry House
Sleeping Beauty 
Sweet Sixteen 
The Mandarin’s Canaries · ss Weird Tales Sep ’38
Return to the Sabbath · ss Weird Tales Jul ’38
One Way to Mars · ss Weird Tales Jul ’45

Perhaps oddly, it was originally rather difficult for me to find an image of the hardcover edition of Blood Runs Cold, only the fourth collection of Robert Bloch's short stories, his second after the success of the film adaptation of Psycho would saddle him with an identifier-phrase for the rest of his life (and one often advertised on his books, as with the Popular Library paperback edition above, in type larger than his name is set in). I've in fact never seen the "Inner Sanctum Mystery" edition (as opposed to a photo) from Simon and Schuster, as far as I know, but the paperback is fairly common, even 47 years later. And if that isn't Janet Leigh swallowing her fist on the cover (I don't think so), Popular Library sure hoped you'd think it was.

The first collection he published in the wake of Psycho the film, with Arkham House, was Pleasant Dreams (1960--see the little photo for its cover), which is a clangorous book, perhaps the best non-retrospective collection of Bloch's career, and for some reason has never gotten a true paperback reprint...Belmont, that low-rent pb publisher, in 1961 did a Very abridged 10-story version that took its title from the hardcover's subtitle, Nightmares, and in 1979, Jove (formerly Pyramid) offered an somewhat abridged version of Pleasant Dreams which managed to cite three of the dropped stories on its back-cover copy (perhaps the stories were left out because "Enoch," "Mr. Steinway," and "That Hell-Bound Train" were still in print in the 1977 Ballantine collection The Best of Robert Bloch, but that's a sorry excuse). Even without those three stories, Pleasant Dreams is a fine collection...but not so much better than Blood Runs Cold as to justify the large discrepancy between the asking prices of the two books, particularly the paperbacks.

It's also odd that before I picked it up again, I remembered Blood Runs Cold as primarily a suspense-fiction collection, versus Pleasant Dreams as a mostly-horror assembly. PD is nearly all horror, and Blood is mostly suspense fiction...but the newer book is eclectic, including the gentle fantasy "All on a Golden Afternoon," three sf stories (and one borderline sf/fantasy satire of the sort Playboy was always happy to publish, "Word of Honor"), one in each of Bloch's usual modes when approaching science fiction: ultraviolet humor and heavy metaphor ("Daybroke") and somewhat less gallows humor and slightly less heavy metaphor ("Where the Buffalo Roam") with the last a fine grim twist/joke-story (with no metaphoric freight to speak of) I won't spoil here by naming, along with a straightforward horror story ("The Pin"). But most of the collected works here are tales of very bad behavior in the (then) here and now, with a few historical fictions mixed in.

You get Bloch's best suspense short story, by me, "Final Performance," with the brilliant one-sentence opening paragraph "The neon intestines had been twisted to form the word Eat." That the resonance of that line will be amplified by the end of the story is just one of its masterful aspects...and it's notable that Bloch, presumably, sequenced the charming "...Afternoon" as the next story after this one. Anyone who's read Bloch realizes that his characters are often as doomed as any of those in Cornell Woolrich or Jim Thompson's work, but Bloch is often cool and keeping a certain distance from those often not-so-beautiful losers, which (along with the strong streak of humor that runs through most of his work) has often kept him from being considered properly among his peers in crime fiction. But as he demonstrates even with another, brief joke story of sorts, "The Show Must Go On," he can put you into the mind of the deranged as well as anyone who's written in these fields, and with "Show Biz," he gives you some very professional, very ugly folks you don't ever want to meet. "I Do Not Love Thee, Doctor Fell" is, along with "Lucy Comes to Stay," the most obvious antecedent to Psycho the novel among Bloch's works, and as such suffers in comparison with the novel, but the story is still worth reading and not just for its historical importance.

It was after reading "The Big Kick," I think, that my friend Alice asked me, "Bloch doesn't seem to like the Beats very much, does he?" It's true that a number of his villains are countercultural (as are a similar number of his heroines/heroes and innocent victims), but even more are very conventional-seeming people who have simply lost or never developed compassion; Bloch disliked his monsters, but like most of the best crime (and horror) fiction writers could help you understand them and their actions.

The students of Bloch, from Richard Matheson to Joe R. Lansdale, from Stephen King (who needs to brush up on his lessons) to Gahan Wilson, have gone on to give us work that sometimes rivals that of the unassuming, genuinely and unnecessarily modest, revolutionizer of at least two fields of writing (Bloch and Fritz Leiber were the acolytes of H.P. Lovecraft who took what was most important about HPL's work and developed it further, and did so in much better prose than Lovecraft cared to strive for). Bloch is the Hammett/Hemingway/Heinlein figure in horror fiction, the one who turned the field back toward the lean and straightforward prose Bierce and the Edwardians had been moving toward, and incorporated developments in psychology and psychiatry in his portrayals of existential terror. And he gave the literary world the kind of human monster who might need our help, but whom we definitely needed to control.

Blood Runs Cold is a good slice of Bloch's work in his early years as already a past master.
A typical subtle Jove package (better than some); the edition I have

For more Friday "Forgotten" Books, please see Patti Abbott's blog

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: Avram Davidson: MASTERS OF THE MAZE (Pyramid Books, 1965)

For once, I choose a "forgotten" book that is not only not forgotten, though less well-remembered than it should be, but not even out of print...albeit the current edition, the Wildside Press offering pictured to the left above, is a Print-On-Demand offer, whose pages were shot from the very peccable earlier edition (see right, above). Both volumes have been cursed with rather bad cover illustrtations, and less than stellar design.

Doesn't matter. If you haven't read Avram Davidson's Masters of the Maze, you need to. Not quite to the same degres as you need to read his "The Lord of Central Park" or "My Boyfriend's Name is Jello" or the previous entry in Forgotten Books by Davidson from me, The Enquiries of Dcctor Eszterhazy, which also lives on, larded up a bit with newer (and slightly lesser) stories in a small press edition as The Adventures of Doctor Esterhazy (and again with proofreading that is not all it should be). But this is the best novel I've read by a man who usually just didn't have the sustained energy to turn out his whole novels with the overwhelming brilliance he could bring to his short fiction (and his other short work), though his two collaborative novels aren't too shabby, and then there's this brilliant short novel.

One would think that a book about a Men's Sweat magazine writer would have a receptive audience in today's market, with so many folks today, some not even inronically, so fascinated by these ridiculous heirs to the pulps, 1950s lower-grade competitors to the men's magazines such as Esquire and Playboy, which featured True Stories of Manly Adventures that were rather blatantly made up, or at very least were distorted in the manner of supermarket tabloids, running stories that Harry Harrison, who used to write them, once noted were all titled some variation of "Love-Starved Arabs Raped Me Often." This and "I Beat Off Twelve Sharks" would be cheek by jowl with cheesecake photo-features that didn't dare to be as suggestive as Esquire's pinup drawings, much less Playboy and the competing skin magazines' bare-breasted photos. Some of the monster-movie magazines, some published by the same people, showed more skin than the True Men's Adventure magazines, which numbered among them such once-proud pulp fiction magazines as Adventure and Argosy...while a few of the last stragglers among the Men's Sweat magazines ended their runs as skin magazines themselves, following Hustler's lead in the mid/late 1970s.

As mentioned, the contents of the True Men's Adventure magazines were at least as fictional as the contents of the True Confessions magazines, except when written by Avram Davidson, who would, to the amazement of his colleagues, actually do on-site research, field interviews, and otherwise produce articles of genuine scholarship for magazines that usually didn't care if any sort of truth was involved. Davideson did, though, rather as if having a tawdry market to sell his historical articles to was a way to defray the independent scholarship he wanted to do anyway.

So, the protagonist of Masters of the Maze, as noted, is a writer for these magazines of the more common kind, a hack who's grinding it out for a penny a word to make some part of a living...and he comes upon a Masonic-style secret society that has, for centuries, been guarding a sort of labyrinth between our Earth and a planet inhabited by intelligent, malevolent creatures known as the Chulpex. The Chulpex have their own secret intrigues, and a renegade among them manages to make its way here, and that's where the fun begins one point, a weary Nate Gordon the hack mutters to himself, "Communist Chulpex Ate My Wife," and that's only one of the fine thrown-away lines of demonstrative of the erudition and seemingly casual wit of Davidson, who nails down the historical details of his fraternal order's history, the science-fictional aspects of the threat posed by the interlopers, the adventure plot upon which all here rests, and a running observation of society comparable to anything in Vonnegut or certainly Brautigan. Davidson would publish more ambitious novels, such as the sequence that begins with The Phoenix and the Mirror, but none more sustained, sharp, and funny--even if the collaborations come close, Joyleg with Ward Moore (Davidson's first novel) and Marco Polo and the Sleeping Beauty with ex-wife Grania Davis (Davidson's last published during his lifetime).

Worth suffering the ugly covers for.

Please see Patti Abbott's blog for more "Forgotten" Books for this week.

Joined in Progress

We now join our regularly scheduled program, already in progress:

"I mean...can't I just sweep them up, and use cleaning tools to get the rest up?"

"No, you'll eat every damned one of these jellybeans, or face the consequences. Here," and the BingBong Thing produced a giant pumpkin-head cover and plopped it down on our hero's shoulders. "This should aid you in that."

Silence fell across the crowd...except for the sound of the BingBong Thing's foot tapping. Finally, he said, "Cuckoo Newness, my ass."

"No." In a low, cautious tone the first time. Then stronger, from inside the Jack'O'Lantern mask: "NO!"

"Excellent, I've been waiting for you to grow a spine. You get to be our official harmless curmudgeon, disregarded as any sort of threat to the order as exists, but a fine lightning rod for our reactionaries to decry and thus rally their easily upset forces, and as trivial a token of rebellion for our would-be reformers as everyone getting a tattoo. Now, I must don't get to be BingBong Thing by wasting too much time on such nonsense."

And with that, the BingBong Thing turned and stalked away. Tiny robots flitted about, gathering and extracting the scattered jellybeans from the walkways and recesses.

"But!" sputtered our hero. Most of the crowd began to go about their collective business of Conformity To The Man's Law And Desires. Or they went home.

Our hero pulls a jellybaby our of his pocket and pops it through the gaping mouth of the orange near-globe and into his own mouth. All that candy was as expensive as use for all of it to go to waste.

-'Submitted for your perusal, a tableau of trivial oppression and rebellion, "'Resist, Jack'o'Lantern!' Advised the BingBong Thing"...just one of tonight's tales of creaking disappointment, on Zorro Albañil's Brick Foxhouse. When we return, the tale of a woman so shocking to convention, she was seen as unlikely to be a fit mother to a third-world child...with an intact family...even though she's rich and really wants a baby this week. "Xes and/or Maron Cicculina," just after these messages.'