Friday, April 15, 2011
FFBs: HRF Keating: CRIME & MYSTERY: THE 100 BEST BOOKS; Lupoff & Thompson, eds.: ALL IN COLOR FOR A DIME; Peter Nicholls, ed. SCIENCE FICTION AT LARGE
H.R.F. Keating passed on 27 March, and we lost another gentleman, by all accounts, in the CF field, one who had been a fine fiction-writer (most famously for the Inspector Ghote stories) and critic both, and this book, widely available but barely in print (the current edition is handsome, but still a product of the collapsed Carroll & Graf; one hopes Running Press or someone might reissue it), is a gimmicky (in format, and I think the first of its series for C&G, which series has also included notable volumes on sf and horror fiction) but no less valuable selection of a hundred important and valuable books in the CF field, most of them of the "true" mystery rather than suspense or other related fields, some collections (leading off, unsurprisingly, with a Poe collection) though most novels, all given two-page essays to limn their virtues and what flaws they overcome. The Keating assessments are bookended by Patricia Highsmith's two-page introduction (even Highsmith had nothing but good to say of Keating) and an unsigned "Publisher's Note" adding a 101st entry, for one of Keating's own Ghotes. Aside from the insightful and deftly-written vignette entries, Keating also doesn't respect received wisdom: he nominated for Ross Macdonald The Blue Hammer and for John D. MacDonald The Green Ripper, the often-dismissed last novels in the two Macs' famous series (Lew Archer and Travis McGee), and makes the case for these specific novels well (hey, I started reading RM with The Blue Hammer, and I wasn't sorry), while the all but inarguable classics (Stanley Ellin's short fiction, The Maltese Falcon, Murder on the Orient Express, The Friends of Eddie Coyle) are treated similarly. Despite at least one dunderheaded comment I've seen, going on about how "outdated" this book is since it was published in 1988 (remarkable how books spoil, isn't it), the book is joy to go through, argue with, and be informed as well as amused by.
Also "outdated" (I mean, it hardly deals with comics after the '40s! I mean, come on!), All in Color for a Dime, which I've reread in the Krause Publications 1997 reissue, retains the enthusiasm of the new ground being tilled (since most of the essays at least have roots in articles in Xero and Alter-Ego, with Comic Art pioneering comics (and other matter) fanzines from the earliest '60s, and this book was pioneering when first published in 1970). The contributors run most of the changes one could want on their subject matter (and they range from such passionate professional writers of fiction and pop-culture history as Ron Goulart, Harlan Ellison, and Lupoff himself through folks with feet in multiple camps such as Ted White and Jim Harmon, to folks whose primary work was extraliterary, but nonetheless, such as Chris Steinbrunner, had a long engagement in criticism or other sorts of similar work in literary circles (Steinbrunner was, among other things, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine's a/v columnist for a decade or so: "Bloody Visions"). While, as I mentioned last week, the Blue Beetle is nowhere mentioned (the book is not attempting to be comprehensive), the coverage of the evolution of the Love Romances Publications line of comics, Planet Comics and its stablemates, would be worth the price of the book alone, as would the pioneering Lupoff article on Captain Marvel and his eventual clan, or Ellison on the George Harriman-esque George Carlson (only Carlson was busy where Harriman was lean).
Science Fiction at Large, the first anthology of critical essays (speech transcriptions rendered into essay form) I read, which had somehow found its way into my first high-school's brand-new library in 1978, and featured impressive essays by Ursula K. Le Guin and Thomas Disch which were to grow into or form important parts of later books (UKL's "Science Fiction and Mrs. Brown" was collected in her The Language of the Night; "The Embarrassments of Science Fiction" is integral to Disch's The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of and has been collected in his On SF), as well as by Harry Harrison, Alan Garner, John Brunner, Robert Sheckley, Philip K. Dick, and the editor; Edward De Bono's introduction to his take on "lateral thinking" was very useful to me then, and remains so. I haven't yet reread John Taylor's essay, and Alvin Toffler's remains slight. A book worth seeking out.
For more of this week's "forgotten" books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.