Friday, December 2, 2011

FFB: HARD LANDING by Algis Budrys...and SFBC's Gary Viskupic covers


Algis Budrys's last novel, which was featured in the October/November 1992 "double" anniversary issue of F&SF and published in both hardcover and paperback by Questar with a remarkably ugly cover design the next year, has been almost criminally neglected (the October issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine that year featured a Joyce Carol Oates novelet, "The Model", which I thought a nice parallel...).

His first long fiction to be published in fourteen years (after "The Silent Eyes of Time" [F&SF 1978] and Michaelmas [Berkley 1977]) and the last he would publish, it is a graceful and well-worked-out account of a handful of humanoid aliens, forced to crash-land on Earth in midcentury, and choosing to hide themselves among the Americans they find themselves among. It traces their progress, if it can be called as much, and the investigations of various US/human agencies and plenipotentiaries...a fairly rich situation for Budrys to work through his obsessions with coping with the often puzzling foreign society and attempting to conform, at least superficially, with the stresses of hierarchy and self-realization (both obvious concerns for a child of military/spy/diplomat parents, who was probably the last living citizen, by US State Dept. reckoning, of pre-WW2 Lithuania for a decade or so...he only became a US citizen after Lithuania gained independence again). His graceful prose, his wit, and his informed take on political and media matters are on display, as his characters deal with their specific situation and the larger-world developments of the four decades starting in 1940. Perhaps because of his already having engaged heavily with the Church of Scientology's publishing arm, administering their Writers of the Future workshop and prize (and helping launch its related) programs, this late work was ridiculously underappreciated...as Scott Cupp notes in comments, most of his work from throughout his career is underappreciated, perhaps least the novel that served as the climax for the first decade of his interrupted sf-writing career in 1959, published by Fawcett Gold Medal as Rogue Moon (and finally republished under one of his preferred titles, The Death Machine not long before his death). Budrys seemed a natural for Gold Medal, as his sf novels have the same sort of alienation and sense of contending with fate as the most fondly-recalled of GM's crime fiction, even if they couldn't leave such titles as Halt, Passenger (for "Rogue Moon") or The Iron Thorn (for "The Amsirs and the Iron Thorn," an even more ridiculous meddling).

Speaking of ugly covers, including for Budrys's first magnum opus, I'm not sure we've had a worse run of covers by an artist of some talent (though Kelly Freas's for Laser Books was close) than Gary Viskupic's series of rotten covers for Science Fiction Book Club dustjackets for books with no previous or negotiable hardcover editions for SFBC to reprint covers from:










































































It wasn't as if Viskupic isn't talented...I believe he's still alive, but might well be retired from professional illustration, as these examples of his newspaper work (I particularly like the Andrei Sakharov portrait and the montage to represent the beginning of the 1973 US syndicated run of the Thames Television series The World at War, from Viskupic's primary '70s gig at the Long Island/NYC-area Newsday), and even jacket images from A.E. van Vogt and P. J. Farmer novels attest (even if the Farmer, perhaps well in keeping with the work, seems a somewhat jejunely jokey pastiche of the kind of work Diane and Leo Dillon are most famous for, such as these illustrations for Ellison's work.)
























But then there are all these others he'd done...even given the Del Rey, and perhaps even the Slan, aren't terrible...but I suspect he was given probably very little time to do them, and little incentive to do his best for them.

11 comments:

Scott Cupp said...

I think most of Budrys is criminally neglected. And those covers are amazingly ugly!

Yvette said...

Really ugly covers, Todd. Maybe the artist was having a bad day...or days.

One of the problems I find with most e-books or self published works, by the way, are their awful 'covers'. It takes real talent for design to come up with an exceptional cover. Not to mention, the judgement to pick the right illustrator or photographer or what have you. It's an art.

George said...

I think those covers were published in the era when the Troll dolls were considered "cute."

Todd Mason said...

I think you're right about Budrys, Scott. And of course you're right about the covers...as are you, Yvette, and I think your comparison to the little Renee Zellweger lookalikes might be too kind, George. The SFBC was particularly...nonchalant, shall we write, in its treatment of the often brilliant work it, like Doubleday as a whole, hoped to shovel out to the suckers on the hook to buy at least four books in one year, preferably ones sent automatically to them because they didn't return the refusal card in time. Anti-talent, for the settings of the paintings as well as in general execution, is on display here.

Walker Martin said...

Budrys was one of the better SF writers. I just recently reread The Executioner and The End of Summer from ASTOUNDING and ROGUE MOON for the third time. I think I missed HARD LANDING and will now read it in my back issue of F&SF.

Todd Mason said...

One of the best, if also one of those who hated having to make a living from sf, rather than being able to wait and write the best sf he thought he was capable of (or other sorts of literature...he did pick up the Edgar for "The Master of the Hounds"). Also, of course, the first editor to buy a short story from me, and in the '60s and '70s probably the most acute critic of "popular" literature I was aware of. One thing I should be sure of, but am not at the moment, is whether the Questar text of HL is longer than the F&SF text...I think it isn't, but that ain't worth depending on.

Scott Cupp said...

I am curious about the two Leo and Diane Dillon covers for The Deathbird that you have included in the gallery there. IS this a test?

Todd Mason said...

Yes...you have to read my comments! I mention that one of the better Viskupic covers nonetheless looks a bit like a Viskupic version of what the Dillons do.

Todd Mason said...

The worst of the rest look like Mike Hinge (or Viskupic) on a very bad day indeed.

Richard R. said...

I'm not particularly proud to say I have most of those SFBC volumes, ugly covers and all, though they have been in and out of boxes so many times many are torn or have just been discarded - no great loss. Yes they were ugly, or perhaps it would be kinder to say "under designed and executed", but then Doubleday paid squat for the artwork on those books.

Todd Mason said...

Oh, I'd say it was clear they did so. I suspect Viskupic provided about as much value for the money provided as Doubleday deserved...but the books deserved much better.