Friday, August 11, 2017

FFB: ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S WITCH'S BREW edited by Henry Veit (Random House 1977)...as opposed to ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S WITCHES' BREW edited by the staff of ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE (Dell Books 1965)


Among the manifold confusions that the branding of "Alfred Hitchcock" anthologies has engendered, between their clutch of publishers (particularly Dell Books, which was in the "Hitchcock" anthology business the longest and mostest--and the books they didn't generate they often reprinted, the long Random House hardcovers frequently broken into two volumes each and sometimes with differing contents from the original anthologies and sometimes with new titles) and ghost-editors (it's not too clear that Hitchcock himself ever did much to edit any of the books credited to him; it's utterly clear that he didn't do much more than sign off in a general way on almost all of them, along with the magazine named for him and other similar products), one of those which can even vex such careful "Hitchcock" readers as Frank Babics and the folks at The Hitchcock Zone, much less all the others more casually engaged (such as ISFDB or GoodReads, and even WorldCat), is the similarity of titles between the last of the young readers' anthologies in the series Random House would publish, Henry Veit's 1977 Alfred Hitchcock's Witch's Brew, and the early (1965) entry in the long series of Dell Books paperback original volumes of stories drawn from the pages of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's Witches' Brew, edited anonymously but presumably by the editorial staff at AHMM.  Hell, I tripped up on this when writing to George Kelley, who was trying to figure out the confusion these and other references had presented, in his post on both books a year or so back. 
The known ghost-editors of Hitchcock anthologies include: Don Ward (long-term Dell editor who did "Hitchcock" anthologies from the years before the AH Presents: tv series began and branding went into overdrive, with both the Random House anthologies and AHMM beginning along with the show in 1956; notably, later, Ward edited Zane Grey's Western Magazine for Dell), Patricia Hitchcock aka O'Connell (his daughter), most diversely and importantly Robert Arthur (the one who also wrote radio scripts as well as for a wide range of fiction magazines, and who edited such magazines as The Mysterious Traveler keyed to one of his radio series), Harold Q. Masur (who succeeded Robert Arthur as editor of Random House's anthologies aimed at adults when Arthur died rather young in 1969), Peter Haining (primarily for UK paperback line the New English Library's Four Square imprint), Muriel Fuller (a children's lit specialist who edited the first Random House YA, Alfred Hitchcock's Haunted Houseful, before Arthur took the series over till his death), and for the last two YA volumes, Veit. 

So...I remember reading Alfred Hitchcock's Witch's Brew, already a bit nostalgically as I'd gone through Robert Arthur's YA Hitchcocks several years before, while sitting in detention at what was then Londonderry Junior High School one afternoon. I'd already read through some back issues of AHMM by that time, borrowed from the library or purchased at used book sales, but was a month or so away from buying my first new issue of AHMM (January 1978) and growing as addicted as I've been since to fiction magazines generally. Following the Robert Arthur YA model rather well (though it's arguably a bit less focused an anthology than most of the Arthur YAs, more like the Arthur and Masur Alfred Hitchcock Presents: adult anthologies thus, even given the witchy theme), it's a diverse and good collection of horror, fantasy and related stories mostly by notable writers in these fields, mixed in this case with a novel excerpt (from T. H. White's Arthurian fantasy The Sword in the Stone) and another novelty for the series, an abridged version of a story, this one probably an improvement on the original by the windy Sterling Lanier. 

The contents of Witch's Brew (courtesy ISFDB and corrected with The FictionMags Index, since ISFDB incorrectly assumes several of the newer stories first appeared in the Dell anthology, which it mistakes for the first edition of this book):
Illustration from AH's Witch's Brew by Stephen Marchesi; scan courtesy The Hitchcock Zone.
Meanwhile, here is the Hitchcock Zone table of contents of Alfred Hitchcock's Witches' Brew, the 1965 AHMM best-of, with the pagination of the 1978 edition added by me, and original publication info from the FictionMags Index:

1965 first edition; not solely in paperback
6. Introduction by Alfred Hitchcock (ghost-written)
19. A Shot from the Dark Night by Avram Davidson  Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Feb 1958 (incorrectly cited in the book's acknowledgments as a 1960 story)
31. I Had a Hunch, and... by Talmage Powell (ss) Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine May 1959 (incorrectly cited in the book as a 1960 story) (also included in Alfred Hitchcock’s Anthology #18 1984)
43. A Killing in the Market by Robert Bloch Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine May 1958 (also included in Alfred Hitchcock’s Anthology #16 1983)
91. The Gentle Miss Bluebeard by Nedra Tyre Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Nov 1959
121. Just for Kicks by Richard Marsten (Evan Hunter) Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Jun 1958
169. When Buying a Fine Murder by Jack Ritchie Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine Jun 1960

Richard Decker was the AHMM editor for much of 1964, succeeded by G. F. Foster, so one or the other is probably the editor of this volume unless the Dell Books editor made the selection...or some combination...

Alfred Hitchcock's Anthology #13, a Davis Publications magazine issue, reprinted by the Dial Press (a Dell hardcover imprint) as Alfred Hitchcock's Death-Reach
Alfred Hitchcock's Anthology #18 reprinted by the Dial Press as Alfred Hitchcock's Crimewatch

I don't remember if I picked up my then-new 1978 third edition or the secondhand copy of the 1965 original first, but probably the former...I don't think I have a copy of the 1975 second edition from Dell:


The AHMM best-of is very much comparable, if certainly less diverse, a reading experience to the YA anthology of a dozen years earlier, with a similar mix of brilliant to decent writers; the classic Robert Bloch story in the Random House volume is certainly better than the good Bloch story in the AHMM book, but that's hardly a fair comparison, as "That Hell-Bound Train" is one of the key stories in Bloch's career. The ghosted introduction to the Dell book is rather funnier, one of the best in that series...one wonders who actually wrote it (perhaps devising editorials for her father was one of Patricia Hitchcock's duties in the office of the magazine). 

For some reason, the Random House paperback editions of the YA volumes would often drop some of the stories, though I don't see that RH even ever offered a paperback reprint of Witch's Brew, though the UK saw both hardcover and paperback editions:





























For more of today's books, much more promptly reviewed, 
please see the gracious and patient Patti Abbott's blog.

Friday, August 4, 2017

FFB: THE BARBIE MURDERS aka PICNIC ON NEARSIDE by John Varley (Berkley 1980)

In 1980, after the publication of his first three somewhat disappointing novels (to most if not necessarily all his fans) and the all but intolerably brilliant first, 1978, collection of his shorter fiction, Berkley, which was publishing his trilogy of novels beginning with Titan, decided to release The Barbie Murders, which appeared to be meant as the B-side collection of his shorter works. The Persistence of Vision (aka In the Hall of the Martian Kings in the UK; the two longest and most widely-hailed stories in the earlier volume thus vied for collection title for, no doubt, Publishers' Reasons), had been seen as kind of the cream of his shorter work published up to 1978; the weakest story in the book was also one of the most popular, "Air Raid," one of two Varley stories in the first issue of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, and the source, after a torturous years-long process, of a not-bad short novel by Varley and a somewhat more disappointing film, script by Varley, starring Daniel Travanti, Cheryl Ladd and Kris Kristofferson, both entitled Millennium. "Air Raid" had been the one of the two in that IASFM issue published under a pseudonym (in longstanding bad magazine-publishing tradition, that would suggest two stories by the same writer in an issue Would Be Wrong), while "Good-Bye, Robinson Crusoe" (the better story, I'd say, and perhaps Varley would, too) was published under the John Varley byline. 

So, these were the stories published in this volume, most of them also pretty damned brilliant, and certainly better, at very least on average, than the novels Varley was publishing in those years (as did his occasional editor Damon Knight, Varley showed a remarkable tendency to slough off good sense or believable character development at novel length, despite being so very good at both in even novellas as well as shorter fiction; both would eventually get past that, Varley happily rather sooner in his career than Knight in his): 
    The Barbie Murders John Varley (Berkley, Sep ’80, pb) (1984 Berkley edition retitled Picnic on Nearside)
While these had been the stories gathered in The Persistence of Vision, one of the several volumes published in a new and sadly short-lived program edited by D, R. Bensen, who had been Pyramid Books' primary editor for more than two decades, and who had been rewarded, after Harcourt Brace Jovanovich bought up Pyramid and rebranded it as Jove Books, with the new Quantum imprint, with some serious promotion and editorial budget, the books published by a consortium of James Wade and Dell Books (and Dell's subsidiary hardcover line the Dial Press), duly reprinted in Britain by Sidgwick & Jackson. (Quantum launched with the first and probably least bad of Varley's first five or six disappointing novels, The Ophiuchi Hotline.)
    The Persistence of Vision John Varley (Quantum/Dial, 1978, hc)
    UK editions (Sidgwick & Jackson/Futura 1978) as In the Hall of the Martian Kings.
    • Introduction · Algis Budrys · in
    • The Phantom of Kansas · nv Galaxy Feb 1976
    • Air Raid · ss Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine Spr 1977, as by Herb Boehm
    • Retrograde Summer · nv F&SF Feb 1975
    • The Black Hole Passes · nv F&SF Jun 1975
    • In the Hall of the Martian Kings · na F&SF Feb 1977
    • In the Bowl · nv F&SF Dec 1975
    • Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance · nv Galaxy Jul 1976
    • Overdrawn at the Memory Bank · nv Galaxy May 1976
    • The Persistence of Vision · na F&SF Mar 1978

It's not putting it lightly how mind-blowing Varley's short fiction, up to novella length, was for me as 13yo reader, digging deeply into the new fiction magazines for the first time in 1978, and in my first new issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction finding Varley for the first time with the novella "The Persistence of Vision" and needing to see as much of his fiction as I could gather. He was doing what Heinlein could no longer do, and had been less adept at even at his best (and in establishing a template, or further establishing that of H. G. Wells and other forebears), in providing glimpses of actually lived-in futures, and ones where technological quantum leaps had had concomitant effects on the lives and behavior of the characters, including no little their sexuality. Varley had a very 1970s-era sexual libertinism inherent in much of his work (which also didn't offend me at all at thirteen, relatively alienated and well into puberty) but managed to express it for the most part naturally through a sophisticated take on his characters' lives and interactions, in posited worlds where changing bodies was only mildly more difficult than changing clothes, and (in many of his linked stories) humanity had been displaced from Earth by alien invaders, who came to save the cetaceans, and thus the human diaspora was spread across the other planets and other bodies of the Solar System, giving Varley a lovely assortment of (then up-to-date-detailed) environments on those planets, etc., to explore. Joanna Russ noted that his female characters were unusually good for a male writer, perhaps for all writers (given how there simply was less tradition of good portrayal of women in fiction, not least fantastic fiction, to draw on); Algis Budrys suggested that at his best, Varley was drawing together all the things that science fiction, at least, could do best and uniquely. Even as a new reader of the new work in the field, it felt to me like Varley, while perhaps not the best creator of lapidary prose in the field at the time, was nonetheless otherwise ahead of (nearly if not) everyone else's curve in showing how a future life might be, indeed a quantum jump of his own in the way that, say, Stanley Weinbaum's work had been in the late 1930s in sf, albeit Varley was innovating in a now much richer and vastly more sophisticated tradition. 

And while the stories in the earlier collection averaged a bit more brilliant (and the next collection, Blue Champagne, would also have a slightly better if less startling batting average), the majority here are more than fine, such as "Robinson Crusoe" or "Picnic on Nearside", and the intentionally outrageous "Lollipop and the Tar Baby" (which features among other things a sentient black hole and is one of the most explicitly sex-driven of Varley's stories); all are worthy of standing with his other early short fiction (and most of it has been offered again in Varley's most recent and retrospective collections, The John Varley Reader and Good-Bye, Robinson Crusoe and Other Stories). Original title story "The Barbie Murders" was the second account, after introduction in "Bagatelle", of police officer Anna-Louise Bach, whom as Varley has noted lives in a somewhat grittier future than that of most of his human-diaspora stories (I believe Mattel, the doll line's manufacturer, took issue with the book's first title, in part driving the retitling, not that the second title isn't a better one for the collection...wish we could say the same for the new cover). Both Berkley editions were released to coincide with first releases of the latter two novels cited in the blurb between Varley's name and the book title on the cover below.

But I will grant it's better than the Orion/Futura UK paperback cover on the first collection:

Though even that is vastly better than what Futura did with The Barbie Murders in their edition:

For swank, and eyewash, here are the somewhat more dignified and better covers Varley has had on his collections since: 



Though I will grant that none of the covers are absolutely brilliant, and this one particularly seems to me could've used another draft...

For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.