Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday's "Forgotten" Novella (and Bonus Book): THE REAL PEOPLE by Algis Budrys (1953); GHOST BREAKER by Ron Goulart (1971)



Contents of issue #3, November 1953 (courtesy ISFDB):
2 • The Real People • novella by Algis Budrys
57 • The Helpful Haunt • short story by Richard Deming
70 • Hush! • short story by Zenna Henderson
80 • House . . . Wife • novelet by [Ms.] Lyle G. Boyd and William C. Boyd [as by Boyd Ellanby]
109 • Just Imagine • short story by Ted Reynolds
113 • The Big Breeze • short story by Franklin Gregory
128 • Sorry, Right Number • short story by Richard Matheson
140 • My Darling Hecate • novelet by Wyman Guin
159 • Prediction (Beyond Fantasy Fiction, November 1953) • house ad/comming attractions by H. L. Gold

My little project of reading four issues of the highest-profile US fantasy fiction magazines of the years 1953-54 is off to a slow start, in part because I'm good at mislaying my reading glasses and even at mislaying somewhere in the apartment the F&SF issue I chose, so I might substitute another. But I have reread (for the first time in a number of years) Algis Budrys's novella, "The Real People," which leads off the issue of Beyond. Despite being collected in Thomas Dardis's best-of Beyond, it's rather a mess, if also a promising work from a writer not much more than a year into his professional career at the time, and perhaps introducing some of the trademark concerns of Budrys which would recur in much more assured work later on.

"The Real People" offers a protagonist who, having barely survived a catastrophic car crash in the first paragraphs of the story, begins noting anomalies about his healing abilities and his experience of hospitalization. For a man who clearly needed reconstructive surgery on his face and the setting and healing of a severely broken arm, to fully wake up for the first time since the accident after a week and be essntially completely healed seems more than a little implausible to him. He begins to question the staff and his own sanity, or at least his recollection of events, and discovers that he apparently can alter the course of events, even the nature of reality, at will. But is it all delusional? He seeks out a college buddy from some years back, now a practising psychologist (not a psychoanalyst, as the friend is quick to point out) and they have a long discussion laden with references to Bishop Berkeley, a good way of incorporating one's research as well as showing that one isn't simply reacting to such previous paranoid or solipsistic fantasy as Theodore Sturgeon's "The Ultimate Egoist," Robert Heinlein's "They" or Fritz Leiber's You're All Alone, but is actually plumbing a bit further back, if not quite as far as when Plato was getting at similar matters in a less systematic way. In fact, the infodumps (long discursive conversations) in this story are one of its telling weaknesses, more indicative perhaps of H. L. Gold's anxious editing that they are of Budrys's original text...Gold liked his magazines' fiction to make sure the reasonably intelligent slick-magazine reader would be able to follow the concepts presented, though as the protagonist tests his perceptions and the apparent reality around him, Budrys's often subtle and rather abrupt indications of those changes could easily have thrown the casual reader. The protagonist, having decided he actually does have dominion over space and time, sets up a trap for himself in the form of murder confession, just to see how much trouble he can get himself in and out of, only to discover that his trial will not accede to his force of will, nor will his eventual stretch on death row...until a fashion model, whose picture inspired him to fabricate the murder, mysteriously visits him in his cell, and helps him realize, after much discursive argument and some playing around with space and time on both their parts, that they are part of a small minority of "real" people, as she puts it, who have some ability to force events by their desires, but that all the other "real" people among the "unreal" drones one comes in contact with might easily interfere with the first's desires; and the two, or however many there might be in any given population center, might well negate each others' abilities, except when their desires are in concert or congruent enough. It turns out that the protagonist and the model had been a romantic item, and the model, who had been an isolated "real" person for quite some time and found their union in some ways threatening, created the circumstances for the protagonist's accident, which in its turn caused his memory-loss and the other deficits which have driven his behavior throughout the story. They reconcile and live Really happily for now.

As noted, the exploration of megalomania and solipsism, though rather well-worked out conceptually and in often elegant prose, seems in several ways derivative of better fiction published in the decade previous to this story, and such different near-contemporary approaches to similar concerns as Damon Knight's "You're Another" (F&SF, June 1955) and Philip Dick's "Upon the Dull Earth" (in Beyond issue #9, undated aside from year 1954) are both more innovative and much more assured. But among the recurring elements in Budrys's work are the fine details of story structure (as the changes wrought by the protagonist keep reframing the story with little notice), the questions of true identity versus the possibly false (and possibly the only possible) identity as determined in large part by the perceptions of others, and even the details of the protag's injuries--his face and arm ruined, which would be echoed either directly or metaphorically in such major later Budrys work as Who?, The Death Machine aka Rogue Moon, and Michaelmas.

So, interesting, promising, but unrealized early work. One Really has to wonder how much the famously heavy-handed Gold fiddled with it editorially.

***Apologies to Bill Crider, who correctly noted that the short form of "Who?" by Budrys appeared in the issue of Fantastic Universe with the Frank Kelly Freas cover that was replicated for the 1970s Ballantine paperback edition...my scrambled memory, not helped by an innaccurate reference site, of Budrys's account of being inspired by a Freas image for Astounding , then writing the story and placing it with FU, and the three versions of the Freas image is written up by Budrys in one of his columns for F&SF, if I now remember correctly. Don't bet the farm.



And, briefly noting that James Reasoner was kind enough to pass along an eBay vendor's poaching one of my revision-needed earlier entries in the Forgotten Books series, for The Unexpected, and William Contento's index of the book, without permission or credit...James's own recent Friday choice of Ron Goulart's anthology The Hardboiled Dicks brought a nice comment from Goulart, somewhat wistfully wishing someone would review one of his in-print titles. I will now fail to do that, but will once again endorse what remains my favorite of Goulart's books, the not quite complete collection of stories about the part-time psychic/paranormal-phenomena detective Max Kearny, Ghost Breaker, which stories are at least as deftly funny and grounded in augmented reality (Kearny is almost an autobiographical figure, in the more quotidian details of his life and outlook as a youngish advertising copywriter and such, when not helping an old friend beat a curse that turns the fellow into an elephant for forty-eight hours on national holidays, and similar adventures) as anything else I've read in this mode, by anyone. Don't let Karel Thole's rather odd if typically well-rendered cover put you off...seek this out. Along with work Goulart is still earning royalties on. (E-reader this book, sir, if Night Shade or Subterranenan or Crippen and Landru can't bring themselves to offer a more complete reissue...or even if they do.)

The Contento Index of Ghost Breaker:
Ghost Breaker Ron Goulart (Ace 11182, 1971, 75¢, 142pp, pb) [Max Kearny]; with the novel Clockwork’s Pirates.
7 · Please Stand By · Ron Goulart · nv F&SF Jan ’62
31 · Uncle Arly · Ron Goulart · ss F&SF Jul ’62
42 · Help Stamp Out Chesney · Ron Goulart · ss *
54 · McNamara’s Fish · Ron Goulart · ss F&SF Jul ’63
73 · Kearny’s Last Case · Ron Goulart · ss F&SF Sep ’65
86 · Breakaway House · Ron Goulart · ss F&SF May ’66
97 · The Ghost Patrol · Ron Goulart · ss F&SF Oct ’68
113 · The Strawhouse Pavilion · Ron Goulart · ss Coven 13 Jan ’70
126 · Fill in the Blank · Ron Goulart · ss F&SF May ’67

(One late published Kearny story, "The Return of Max Kearny" [F&SF Dec 1981] has been anthologized in one of Elana Lore's "Hitchcock"-branded anthologies, but has not yet been collected with the others; at BoucherCon 2001, Goulart mentioned an unfinished late Kearny manuscript as well).

For more of this week's FFB, please see Patti Abbott's blog for an index.

18 comments:

Bill Crider said...

Great choices and commentary. I like a lot of Goulart's stories, and I've reviewed a couple of his books on my blog, even one that was in print at the time I reviewed it. Or maybe I made that up, so no apologies necessary for slightly flawed memories.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Somebody took a bite out of her.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, Bill, though I'd feel remiss in not at least noting my errors in re the tangled history of WHO? (more Burdrys fiction should be filmed, though better than WHO? was, even though Elliot Gould was, as I faintly remember it, pretty good in his role). And thanks for the kind words about the post...now missing a few of the grosser infelicities and typos I'm choosing to attribute to its late night composition in the small hours this morning.

Patti, that can happen to a person who finds herself in an Yves Tanguy-influenced fantasy landscape, as most of the first several BEYOND cover images were, whether by Richard Powers or, as in this case, by René Vidmer. Though she has a least two bites out, or at least patches of transparency, given her left arm is gone-looking, too.

Rittster said...

Besides Fredric Brown and Robert Bloch, Goulart is one of the few sci-fi authors I like. And, as with Brown and Bloch, Goulart's humor is what I like most about his stuff. My favorite of his short story collections is WHAT'S BECOME OF SCREWLOOSE? Although I haven't read GHOST BREAKER, I just ordered a copy. And what a great last name for an author of GHOST BREAKER to have. Just an an "h" and you've got, "ghoul art".

Todd Mason said...

Well, while I really hate Forrest Ackerman's "sci-fi" tag fo sf, I'm glad you like all three writers...though all three have been protean talents, hardly specialists in science fiction alone (though Goulart might be the closest, I think at this point he like Brown has written at least as much crime fiction as sf...and Brown, not quite as much as Bloch but close, wrote nearly as much horror and fantasy fiction as he ever did sf). In fact, while Robert Bloch did write an interesting body of sf, I'd estimate his science-fictional work was less than a tenth of his published work...though he was particularly fond of such stories as his surreal quasi-sf "The Funnel of God" and a few others.

George said...

I've always liked Ron Goulart's work. I have that ACE DOUBLE, but I haven't read it. Good thing Summer Vacation is looming so I can read all the great books you've been touting, Todd. I only discovered a few issues of BEYOND over the years, but I liked what found.

Todd Mason said...

Sadly, the magazine only lasted for ten issues, so it's one of the easier complete sets to compile.

Evan Lewis said...

Maybe we need to promote an "In Print Goulart Day" to see if we can send a few royalty bucks his way.

Todd Mason said...

There are less-worthy causes, Evan. In-print everyone days could be trying...

K. A. Laity said...

Goulart has written on comics, too which is how I came to meet him. My friend who took us to lunch is greatly enamoured of his Groucho mysteries, but I have been reluctant to try them (not sure I want to see anybody else do Groucho, experience tells me). But I should.

I don't think I've read any Budrys, unless it was as a teen when I read a lot of SF without pause. What would be a good recommendation of a typical work of his?

Todd Mason said...

Goulart--his worst I've read is entertaining, though slight...his best, along with GHOST BREAKER, tends to be charming, cynical satire and witty and otherwise straigtforward crime fiction...I've yet to read the Groucho novels, myself.

Budrys--his novels ROGUE MOON, which retitling he never forgave Gold Medal's editor (he wanted to call it THE DEATH MACHINE or HALT, PASSENGER...the last edition before his death is THE DEATH MACHINE) and MICHAELMAS are necessary, and for some reason there was a mixed reaction to his last novel HARD LANDING that I've never understood, since I think it very much in line with those...WHO? is the one that's come up several times of late here, perhaps his first fully-realized novel, though all of his novels are at least worth reading except perhaps for the weak, slight MAN OF EARTH (not quite the mess "The Real People" is, but not much better)...that one's mostly interesting for its love/hate portrait of the paternalistic petty dictator the protagonist has to deal with. Budrys was in this way a bit like a more sophisticated but no less conflicted Heinlein, only he never fell into the self-worship pit.

The short fiction collection ENTERTAINMENT or any of his earlier collections such as BLOOD AND BURNING or THE UNEXPECTED DIMENSION or BUDRYS'S INFERNO are also excellent places to start, as is the collection of GALAXY book review columns I've profiled earlier in Friday Book series, BENCHMARKS.

Todd Mason said...

Budrys went through periods where he wouldn't write much, where he felt he needed the work in question to need to be written before he would choose to write it. He wrote some slight stuff in his first decade, and some for himself for his magazine TOMORROW in the 1990s, but otherwise usually wanted, with greate success usually than lesser, to ensure that what he was producing was worthy. ROGUE MOON was published in 1960, THE IRON THORN in 1968, MICHAELMAS in 1977...like that. Much of his time in the 1960s was spent as an editor at Playboy Enterprises' book-publishing arm, and then in public relations work for various folks. And writing infrequent short fiction and the "Galaxy Bookshelf" columns.

Todd Mason said...

Goulart, of course, also has written comics continuity/scripting...and has been a broad-spectrum pop-culure historian, at least as much as Jim Harmon or anyone else in that field, since the '60s...

SteveHL said...

I'm going to wander off-topic in reference to your discussion of the Budrys. Beyond was a terrific magazine and I've never understood why it failed. I haven't read this particular issue in years and I don't remember much of it but I recall that "Hush!" was a very rare (and quite effective) horror story from Henderson. I know I liked the Guin because I liked everything by Guin. I was startled to see that Ted Reynolds had a story in here as I didn't think he came along until well after 1953; ISFDB shows that Reynolds would have been about 15 at the time and then he didn't publish again until 1977.

I enjoyed all the Kearny stories as well as most of the rest of what I've read by Goulart. He's had another series recently in F & SF all of which have the name "Heather Moon" in the title; these are very similar in tone to the Kearny's.

Todd Mason said...

I think several factors helped kill BEYOND simultaneously. GALAXY was starting to lose ground by 1955, both in circulation and in status, in part for the same reason that all the sf/fantasy titles were losing circulation...there were too damned many of them out simultaneously (more than at any other time before or since), and casual readers could easily grow confused between them...and some were very bad indeed (though most were at least earnest and pleasant). The steam that World Editions had built up for GALAXY's first issues and Robert Guinn as WE's successor was now in the past, and Gold was starting to alienate writers and perhaps a few readers with his attempt to reach more general audiences...and the self-concious fantasy readership was apparently always small up through the Tolkien boom years of the '70s...before that, the vast majority of casual fantasy readers didn't really think of themselves as fantasy readers and didn't seek out fantasy magaziens, and a lot of sf readers were ridiculously bigoted against fantasy and refused to read it when it was so labeled...UNKNOWN didn't sell as well as ASTOUNDING, FANTASTIC when heavily a fantasy magazine didn't sell as well as AMAZING later on, and BEYOND didn't sell as well as GALAXY. And even if the sales would've allowed BEYOND to continue, I gather the stress on Gold, who was trying to control everything about the content of the magazines with minimal assistance (usually Evelyn Gold and writers with some editorial experience such as Budrys, Jerome Bixby after his stint at PLANET STORIES, and Sam Merwin), was apparently taking a clear personal toll even before the accidents that led to Frederik Pohl ghost-editing the GALAXY group for the Golds by the late '50s.

I haven't read the rest of the issue yet, though I think I've read the Matheson before...I shall soon see. A lead novella as jambled as this one probably didn't help readership too much, even given its good qualities.

Todd Mason said...

Goulart mentioned that he was considering a series about Kearny's daughter...I'm behind in my F&SF reading, to say the least...I wonder if that is this, or if the concept was altered just a bit in the execution...

SteveHL said...

This is so long after your comments that I have no idea if you'll ever see it, but just in case...

I hope I am not misquoting too badly but Anthony Boucher once said something like, "Readers don't like fantasy less than science fiction but they think they do".

Todd Mason said...

Pity Boucher so consistently thought less of his F&SF readers than he should have...