Friday, November 11, 2011
FFB: NEGLECTED VISIONS edited by Barry N. Malzberg, Martin Harry Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander (Doubleday 1979)
Neglected Visions is an interesting anthology in several ways, not least in being a fine collection of short fiction, much of it previously uncollected and all of it out of print at time of publication in 1979; also, it was the first collaborative anthology between prolific anthologists (and frequent collaborators) Barry Malzberg and Martin Harry Greenberg (Barry, whom I've quizzed briefly about this book, remembers Joseph Olander's role as being relatively slight, and that Olander was approaching his retirement from work with Greenberg), as well as being a relatively early book in both their compilation careers. Also unusually, Malzberg and Greenberg/Olander take credit for discrete selections here, with Barry putting in the Mark Clifton, Kris Neville, Peter Phillips, Norman Kagan and F.L. Wallace stories, and his collaborators including the Christopher Anvil, Randall Garrett, Robert Abernathy and Wyman Guin items. Along with getting one more story in, Malzberg also provides a general introduction, and the selectors switch off introducing the stories themselves. Malzberg and Greenberg would do something altogether similar again in Uncollected Stars (Avon, 1986), which I briefly reviewed sometime back, with collaborators Piers Anthony and Charles G. Waugh (in that same review I cited Ramsey Campbell's Fine Frights, which shares the Phillips story with this one...the only story among them I'd read before picking up Neglected Visions).
None of these stories are particularly well-known even among most fantasy and sf "insiders" with the possible exception of Randall Garrett's remarkably thoroughly worked-out "The Hunting Lodge" (a breathless adventure of an assassin's attempt to kill one of the nearly-immortal "senators" who have divvied up North America into personal fiefdoms), a work cited by James Blish as well as the editors here as a jewel, sadly rare in the torrent of facile work he produced to order to fill the pages of Astounding Science Fiction in the latter 1950s and early 1960s, when editor John W. Campbell, Jr. seemed to have grown weary of his task, and was often editing on autopilot (Garrett, by himself and in collaboration particularly with Robert Silverberg or Lawrence Janifer and often under pseudonynms, apparently appeared more times in the magazine than any other contributor of fiction). Garrett would actually try again with his frequently impressive Lord D'Arcy stories in the early '60s and onward (among scattered other examples of solid or better work), but old hacking habits died hard. This cover inspired a lot of machismic discomfort in the sf-fan community at the time, inspiring jokes about, ho ho, the model being John Campbell's "wife"...
Big Digression: It's little wonder that along with the winnowing of the flood of digest-sized sf and fantasy magazines that popped up in the early 1950s to augment the pulp titles, with opportunist publishers aware of the success of the new Galaxy (particularly), Fantastic and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the reinvigorated, more mature and briefly more successful than ever Startling Stories and its stablemates, that Earl Kemp's Who Killed Science Fiction? struck such a chord in 1960, as the book publishers were pulling back from their experiments with sf in the early '50s, the potential for ever more mature, well-written and adventurous sf seemed to be disappearing, and as Astounding and Galaxy languished [along with the latter's newly-purchased stablemate, If, treated as a commercial step-sibling] even as they continued to include good and better fiction with the mediocre and worse, F&SF under Robert Mills was the blandest it would be for decades, if still good [Mills had done better at the shortlived companion Venture Science Fiction previously], and Fantastic and Amazing were only beginning to recover from the utterly disinterested editorship of Paul W. Fairman, under his former assistant, the green but adventurous Cele Goldsmith...and all the other magazines in the field were dead by the end of 1960, H.S. Santesson's Fantastic Universe (the last issue had a garish cover and the beginning of a serialization of The Mind Thing by Fredric Brown and stories by Robert Bloch and Jorge Luis Borges; it was a stablemate of the US edition of The Saint Mystery Magazine, which Santesson also began editing in '59, succeeding Sam Merwin, who had edited Startling and would move on to Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine) and Robert A. W. Lowndes's Science Fiction (the last title of the Columbia pulp and digest chain, publishers of some of the last crime-fiction and western pulps and the last sports-fiction pulp) being the last stragglers to fold. End of digression, pretty much.
The book begins with a story by retired psychologist Mark Clifton, who turned to sf as a medium for social criticism with vigor, but also (as Malzberg notes) with a keen commercial sense of how to appeal to his primary editor, John Campbell, by writing the kind of stories (about psionic abilities and other ESP-related matters) that JWC was particularly fascinated by in the early to mid 1950s; with "Clerical Error," Clifton was able to strenuously criticize specifically his former profession and the adjoining one of psychiatry, the government cult of classified information, and the tension between actual creative thought and survival in bureaucracy, essentially all matters close to Campbell's heart as well; Barry suspects the rather easy ending was created either in anticipation of Campbell's desire for such, or at his editorial command. The story has not aged badly, as, ridiculously, the degree of these problems hasn't lessened in the slightest since 1956, where it hasn't worsened. Barry has been championing Clifton fairly consistently since the latter 1970s, at least, and has been instrumental in bringing at least some of his work back into print, though the collection (co-edited with Greenberg), The Science Fiction of Mark Clifton (Southern Illinois University Press, 1980), as Barry recalls, sold less than 700 copies--not that SIU Press did much to support it. Clifton's novel with Frank Riley, They'd Rather Be Right, won the second Hugo Award given to a novel, in 1955.
"Christopher Anvil" (Harry Crosby)'s "Mind Partner" is also a story about madness, identity and perception, by another "pet" writer of Campbell's, though perhaps it's notable that this story, which Barry suggests is Anvil's best and it's certainly the best I've read by him, was published in Frederik Pohl's Galaxy instead. This one offers a private investigator trying to help bust an apparent drug ring, who move from mostly well-appointed house to house, but leaving a wake of despondent, psychotic addicts whenever authorities close in but fail to apprehend them. It turns out the pushers can alter perception in remarkably labyrinthine ways, including those of anyone who threatens them; our protagonist goes through a not quite recursive set of experiences as dark (in implication often more than in incident) and as well-told as the best of Philip Dick's similar work, and even though this was not one of Barry's choices, it's certainly akin to Malzberg's work in this mode, as well. Like the Clifton, it has a rather too-neat ending, but remains strange and engaging throughout.
Kris Neville's "Ballenger's People" is the story in the book closest to Malzberg's heart, "the best thing [Neville] has ever written and the best American short story published in its crazy year." as he puts it in the story's headnote; yesterday, he noted in email, "[It] had an enormous influence on my work; I read it at exactly the right time (1967 when published in Galaxy)." It tells the story of a man named Ballenger, whom we discover contains multitudes as well as a pure and abiding love for a percussionist named Angelique and, not irrelevantly, a bone to pick with a Columbia Record Club-style company he had bought his previous love-interest's videotapes from. It is a deft study of not quite functional madness and its affects on those around the madness or treating with their own less obvious sort, akin to both Malzberg's work and Robert Coover's, among others'. And thus, it, too, as is the Garrett which follows, to a great extent another story about identity, perception of identity, and distortion.
"Lost Memory" continues to be a very grim joke, both the title pun and the story as a whole, losing little of its power on rereading, about well-meaning robots doing their best to return an apparently fallen alien machine to mechanical health...while the human within the damaged spaceship they've found does his best to find a way to help them understand his plight. Malzberg notes that he almost chose Phillips's "Dreams are Sacred" over this one, but noted that what made the choice easier was how many writers had echoed "Dreams" over the years, including Barry himself, while "Lost Memory" seemed to serve as the last word on its theme. "Junior," by Robert Abernathy, which follows, is a much lighter sort of conceptual breakthrough comedy, involving a rebellious young male among a society of sentient and hidebound as well as shellbound mollusc-like creatures. It's a bit cute for my taste, but is pleasant and clever enough. It was a Greenberg/Olander choice and Barry also looks upon it fondly.
"Laugh Along with Franz" by Norman Kagan was another important story in Barry's career, inasmuch as it challenged him to consider writing sf professionally, as well as providing the example that the kind of thing he wanted to write could be published in sf media. Rather in the mode of the film of The Graduate, only more imaginatively and earlier, and even moreso in the mode of such satirical writers (at least when in that mood) as Herbert Gold and Herbert Gold and Bruce Jay Friedman or Muriel Spark, only as informed as their fellow-travelers Ray Nelson or (Ms.) Jody Scott (and certainly Malzberg as well) by sf tradition and, of course, by such allied work as Kafka's as well as by the Beat-begetting-Hippie counterculture, the story deals with a young software engineer at IBM (redubbed ICM) coming to some realizations about what really matters in life, and what might just be a tissue of lies, convenient for the powerful.
Wyman Guin, perhaps more exclusively famous (to the extent that he is) for What Is Reality fiction than anyone else in sf, thanks to his once widely-reprinted "Beyond Bedlam" (far superior to Evan Hunter's slightly later drugged society story "Malice in Wonderland," if perhaps missing the snappy ad lines of Huxley's most famous fiction), is instead represented here by a mildly misogynist but otherwise deft fantasy, "My Darling Hecate." Guin didn't quite learn the right lessons from Fritz Leiber's Conjure Wife, in this story of an accidental but nonetheless powerful witch, who has remarkable powers she can barely control, when she puts her mind to it. But, again, it plays out rather cleverly, particularly in the manner in which her subconscious plays havoc with the world around her.
I'd just begun the Wallace story, as I write this, the previous night, and while it starts promisingly, with yet another sort of spy or agent making his way through a dangerous city on a world inhabited by amphibian humanoids, I might or might not get to finish it before revising this later today. Barry is almost as enthusiastic about Wallace's work as he is about Clifton's; he sees Wallace's fiction as similar in approach and in reframing the questions we should be asking in science fiction, though Wallace was writing for (the no less demanding, and in both similar and different ways eccentric) H. L. Gold, founding editor of Galaxy, who grew more removed from his editorial work in later '50s less from simply burning out, as Campbell was, than by the weight of failure to achieve his ambitions with his magazine, and the effects of both WW2-induced agoraphobia and pain meds he took, even before an auto-accident during an attempt to go out nearly killed him; this is why Frederik Pohl was apparently editing Galaxy and If in all but title no later than 1960, and gradually doing more and more of the work for some time before that. That Wallace was so strongly associated with Gold's version of the magazine might've been a contributing factor in Wallace leaving sf in the late '50s, not finding Pohl the same sort of editor; as Malzberg notes, Wallace published some mystery novels and then ceased writing fiction.
And I've finally noted, all these stories come from either Campbell's Astounding (before its retitling as Analog in 1960), or from Gold's Galaxy and Beyond, or Pohl's 1960s Galaxy (and Pohl had been pretty deeply involved with Galaxy as a contributor of fiction and literary agent for a lot of the other contributors from nearly its beginning under Gold).
All told, while this book (moreso than the latter Uncollected Stars), has fiction which tends to cluster, as repeatedly noted, around questions of perception and identity, while touching on rather than for the most part dealing directly with other great themes that sf can lend itself to, it's an excellent book to sit and read. And, like the later volume, if not quite to the same extent as the Clifton collection, it was not a commercial success. Like nearly every other book published in the Doubleday Science Fiction imprint, particularly at the production nadir of that line in the late '70s, it's poorly bound (the trade hardcover has a glue binding, not sewn, and in every other way is identical to the probable SF Book Club edition of the time, another arm of Doubleday), given an inept cover (in this case moreso than most even for D-day...just look at it), and, as Barry notes, "Doubleday packaged the book contemptuously and dumped it as they dumped all Doubleday sf. Sales were miserable." The Doubleday Science Fiction imprint depended on library sales for nearly all of its income (and was hardly unique in this in hardcover publishing at the time, or for at least a decade or so beforehand and after), and expected those sales to come to a certain amount whether a given book was good, bad or indifferent; no one in Garden City was going to make much effort to help distinguish any given item published thus. The Asimov books would sell better, and Ellison's Dangerous Visions anthology too, or at least sell consistently for longer, but Asimov didn't write much sf any longer, and his sf books from Doubleday were usually about as clumsily-packaged as everyone else's. Everyone else could cry themselves a river. And even as The Simarillion was setting sales records for hardcover fiction, and the Levin/Tryon/Blatty/King/Rice horror blockbuster trend was starting to become impossible to ignore, no one at D-day was going to try to suggest that a Doubleday Fantasy or Doubleday Horror imprint might be a useful, much less a profitable, idea...nah, those books could continue to be "Doubleday Science Fiction" if they were by some writer a D-day staffer had editorially/promotionally decided wrote sf, five or fifteen years previously...hence, for example, the mislabeling thus of Manly Wade Wellman's John the Balladeer novels in their original editions. (Wellman's historical fantasy novels, too:)
And, frankly, these stories remain (at least) good reading, though they also remain difficult to find without seeking out this long out-of-print volume or their original magazine appearances...but you could do much worse with much more effort. The story headnotes and the pointers to more work by the assembled alone might be worth the few bucks to pick up a library discard like mine, in decent shape (mine from the Public Library of Des Moines).
And many thanks to Barry Malzberg for letting me pepper him with questions.
upgraded slightly from the Contento index:
Neglected Visions ed. Barry N. Malzberg, Martin H. Greenberg & Joseph D. Olander (Doubleday, 1979, hc) 212pp. Each of the stories is followed by a selective bibliography of the author's other short fiction (and the anthologies and collections where they have been reprinted) and novels.
vii · Introduction · Barry N. Malzberg · in
1 · Clerical Error · Mark Clifton · nv Astounding Feb ’56
35 · Mind Partner · Christopher Anvil · nv Galaxy Aug ’60
65 · Ballenger’s People · Kris Neville · ss Galaxy Apr ’67
77 · The Hunting Lodge · Randall Garrett · nv Astounding Jul ’54
109 · Lost Memory · Peter Phillips · ss Galaxy May ’52
122 · Junior · Robert Abernathy · ss Galaxy Jan ’56
130 · Laugh Along with Franz · Norman Kagan · nv Galaxy Dec ’65
153 · My Darling Hecate · Wyman Guin · nv Beyond Fantasy Fiction Nov ’53
171 · Delay in Transit · Floyd L. Wallace · na Galaxy Sep ’52
For more of today's books, please see organizer Patti Abbott's blog.