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.