Monday, February 20, 2017

Thursday, February 16, 2017

FFB/S: evil children week: THE LITTLE MONSTERS et seq. edited by Roger Elwood and/or Vic Ghidalia; stories by Jerome Bixby, Kit Reed, Damon Knight, "Matthew Gant" (Arnold Hano) and C. M. Kornbluth

There are all sorts of delightful stories about evil children, as well as merely mischievous children (standard and psychopathic and supernatural); FFB organizer Patti Abbott, mother of a prosecuting attorney and a crime-fiction specialist, perhaps knows something we don't, and called this week for a special attention on the perhaps overlooked examples of this particular genre of novels and, in my case at least, short fiction instead. 

So, before turning to the anthologies of Roger Elwood and Vic Ghidalia, perhaps the most prolific miners of this vein, separately and together, in fantastic fiction, some examples that come to mind that aren't included in any of their books cited here...


Jerome Bixby's "It's a Good Life" is perhaps the least obscure bad child story, beyond "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" and few others, vying with The Bad Seed and Peck's Bad Boy and probably ahead of Conradin in Saki's "Sredni Vashtar" or "Gabriel-Ernest" or Small Simon in John Collier's "Thus I Refute Beelzy", and on par with the protagonists of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the increasingly obscure Penrod and their sequels. Adapted several times for versions of The Twilight Zone and mocked as a result by The Simpsons, it's the most famous of Bixby's works by some distance, and a fine evocation of why, perhaps, children shouldn't be omnipotent. Similarly, Joe Hensley's "Lord Randy, My Son."

Damon Knight's brilliant "Special Delivery" involves another rather more insidious sort of bully, a (to understate) precocious and telepathic fetus who chooses to dictate (rather more explicitly than a fetus might anyway) how its parents get to behave as it develops. A great resolution and last line, which, Knight notes, his first wife actually said upon parturition of their first.

"Matthew Gant" (Arnold Hano)'s "The Uses of Intelligence" involves two smug, and also precocious, early-adolescent miscreants who don't quite discover in time that they are not the most intelligent people in their environment. As a bright young thing when first reading this one, as reprinted from the MWA's own short-lived magazine Sleuth in one of Robert Arthur's Alfred Hitchcock Presents: anthologies (A Month of Mystery, as paperbacked in part as Dates with Death), the dopiness of the young crooks rather offended me at least as much as their viciousness. And I'm reminded of Hensley again; Joe Hensley and Harlan Ellison's "Rodney Parish for Hire" rings a similar change on this basic story, perhaps a bit more convincingly. 

Two stories that aren't quite about evil children, so much as nearly so: "The Education of Tigress McArdle" by C. M. Kornbluth and "The Attack of the Giant Baby" by Kit Reed; the first about a robot baby simulator that prospective parents are required to survive before being allowed to procreate; the other about an infant accidentally Made Large (the filmmakers of Honey, I Blew Up the Kids didn't quite come close enough to be actionable), both accumulations of charming and off-putting detail. Half-masticated Mallomars alone. (Kornbluth and his wife had extra struggle in treating with their special needs child, which also led to his writing the unfinished fragment that Frederik Pohl, who had some similar experience, completed and published as "The Meeting".)

And there are many other stories about not so much evil as self-preserving children driven to extremes, such as Graham Greene's "The End of the Party"...and the exploitation of children, such as "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin...or something too much akin, as with the eerie "At the Bottom of the Garden" by David Campton or Joyce Carol Oates's slightly older protagonist dealing with an impossible situation in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?"

Meanwhile, over the course of five anthologies, the busy and controversial anthologist Roger Elwood (very prolific and responsible for a number of good and indifferent anthologies in the latter 1960s into the late 1970s, among other editorial work and eventually some novels of his own) and part-time anthologist and early collaborator Vic Ghidalia (his day job apparently was as a publicist at ABC television in Los Angeles) managed to gather other stories instead, between them in four predominantly reprint volumes and one all-original anthology. I have yet to see that last, but have enjoyed most of the stories in the other books over the years, and picked up their first joint effort, The Little Monsters, when I was about twelve or thirteen  from some secondhand book source. 

The Little Monsters ed. Roger Elwood & Vic Ghidalia (MacFadden-Bartell 288, 1969, 75¢, 160pp, pb)
    • 5 · The Metronome · August Derleth · ss Terror by Night, ed. Christine Campbell Thomson, London: Selwyn & Blount 1934
    • 13 · Let’s Play “Poison” · Ray Bradbury · ss Weird Tales Nov 1946
    • 19 · The Playfellow · Cynthia Asquith · nv Shudders, Cynthia Asquith, London: Hutchinson 1929
    • 43 · Mimsy Were the Borogoves · Henry Kuttner · nv Astounding Feb 1943, as by Lewis Padgett
    • 77 · The Antimacassar · Greye La Spina · ss Weird Tales May 1949
    • 91 · Old Clothes · Algernon Blackwood · nv The Lost Valley and Other Stories, London: Nash 1910
    • 123 · How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery · E. F. Benson · ss The Windsor Magazine Dec 1911
    • 139 · “They” · Rudyard Kipling · nv Scribner’s Aug 1904
Four years later, for the successor no-budget publisher, a sequel:
But beforehand, another joint anthology, for a somewhat more solvent publisher:
And Elwood exploring, with an anthology of all new stories, rather than one or two, the subject matter on his own as editor: 
































 And Ghidalia taking up his own exploration:
    The Devil’s Generation ed. Vic Ghidalia (Lancer 75465, 1973, 95¢, 175pp, pb)
One can see that the two editors' tastes were rather similar, and all five anthologies at least look solid. I need to pick up Demon Kind even if the stories gathered there might be minor in each case...the sequel to Kris Neville's most famous story, "Bettyann", makes that story of some special interest even without the potential of the others, including an early story by eventual YA specialist Laurence Yep, along with several old favorite writers of mine. The mostly/entirely reprint anthologies are an interesting mix of chestnuts and more unlikely choices; The Little Monsters is a rare, if not the only, selection not taken explicitly from Weird Tales to include a La Spina story, I believe, that I own. And, certainly, some of these stories vary a bit from the theme of genuinely evil children, even if the malefactors, as in "The Black Ferris", appear to be children at first. Elwood and Ghidalia perhaps do not need to be crusaded for, but in their ways, they did some good work they could be proud of...even if one chooses never to forgive Elwood for most of the Laser Books line.  Certainly, anyone who hadn't previously come across Robert Bloch's "Sweets to the Sweet" or the Bradbury stories, or the far less commonly reprinted Derleths, was likely to feel like they had made a wise investment. 

For more of this week's books and evil children, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

Friday, February 10, 2017

FFB: THE EUREKA YEARS: Boucher and McComas's MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION 1949-1954, edited by Annette Peltz McComas (Bantam 1982)

This remarkable book was barely published by Bantam Books, in 1982 probably still the most successful paperback house in the world, haphazardly distributed, the only printing of the only edition lacking page numbers on its table of contents, the handsome if somewhat generic astronomical art on the cover uncredited.  Nonetheless, it's a treasure trove, an historical as well as literary feast, as well as a tribute not only to the magazine whose birth and first half-decade it documents well, and to its founding editors and the Mercury Press staff who worked with them to get the magazine off the ground, and to the writers who contributed, but also a memorial, an act of devotion by the ex-wife, presumably not legally widow, of cofounder J. Francis McComas, who had died relatively young in 1978, and longtime friend of the other cofounder, William A. P. White (better known as Anthony Boucher), who'd died even younger in 1968. Boucher had had the more ridiculously busy and accomplished career, but "Mick" McComas had achieved notable things with and without Boucher, as well, most famously co-editing (with Raymond Healey) the anthology Adventures in Time and Space, a hugely influential early assembly of science fiction stories (and some related material) that had been sustained in print by Random House, including through their Modern Library and Ballantine/Del Rey imprints, for decades.
William "Anthony Boucher" White and feline.

In 1945, the old college friends, and associates of Fredric Dannay (Boucher had already sold his translation of Jorge Luis Borges's "The Garden of the Forking Paths" to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, the first publication of Borges in English), began to inquire if Dannay might lend his EQ "name" to a fantasy and horror fiction magazine in the same mode as EQMM; Dannay begged off, but suggested that the men directly contact his publisher, Lawrence Spivak, at Mercury Press, and Dannay would certainly put in a good word for them. Spivak and his publications manager Joseph Ferman were interested, but cautious...Mercury Press was doing OK with American Mercury, the H. L. Mencken-founded magazine of politics and culture, in part because of the association with the NBC radio series Meet the Press Spivak was now producing, though not yet hosting, and better with EQMM, and the Mercury Mystery and Bestseller Mystery lines of books, published in digest-sized magazine format and given essentially magazine-style distribution (even more so than the mass-market paperbacks that Pocket Books and Bantam and their direct competitors were issuing, including those such as Fawcett and Ace who previously had been magazine publishers primarily), were getting by, albeit it was a crowded post-war marketplace facing uncertain economic times.  Already publishing in digest format, Donald Wollheim's The Avon Fantasy Reader was Spivak and Ferman's model for how they figured their potential new magazine might do, and reports were mixed there, as well...certainly Weird Tales, which had inspired the Avon title, had been a marginal commercial property for its long run, as well...so the proposed Fantasy and Horror, then Fantasy and Terror, seemed like a bit of a gamble. We read some of the correspondence between Ferman and the prospective editors from the period between 1946 and 1949, and finally the issuance of the first issue of what emerges as The Magazine of Fantasy...and with a slightly expanded title, publishes a second issue (and continues to publish today). 
Jesse Francis "Mick" McComas

The book sapiently and engagingly alternates correspondence between the editors and the contributors with examples of their stories for the new magazine, so one gets to see how the new writers introduced by F&SF, such as Richard Matheson, Mildred Clingerman and Zenna Henderson, as well as young lions such as Theodore Sturgeon and his student Ray Bradbury, Alfred Bester and Isaac Asimov and the rapidly evolving Damon Knight and Poul Anderson, and the even newer Chad Oliver and Evelyn Smith, and the relative veterans such as L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt, and Manly Wade Wellman, had their work shaped and sharpened, or new directions encouraged, through their interactions with the editors, whose intense discussions and list-making (some examples provided in entries also interspersed here) had served them well in the years of preparation for their new responsibilities. That and the kind of salon that took place particularly in the Boucher/White Berkeley home, where such young locals as Philip K. Dick and Ron Goulart were likely to be found. 

The book doesn't include every major contributor to the first issues (Avram Davidson's first story outside the Jewish press, the brilliant "My Boyfriend's Name is Jello", Shirley Jackson's first F&SF story, and several Margaret St. Clair and Fritz Leiber stories are overlooked--for lack of surviving correspondence with the editors?; oddly enough, given they originally planned to buy reprint rights to a Robert Bloch story for the first issue, they didn't publish any Bloch fiction nor nonfiction in the first five years of the magazine), but it gives a fair sense of them, and mostly avoids the more obvious choices of short story, if not always (the Knight, his first published story he was satisfied with, and the Sturgeon story from the first issue, don't quite compel themselves as choices, but are more than reasonable ones). A book that goes well beyond the typical best-0f volume or even the fine historical surveys that the Frederik Pohl & co. retrospectives of Galaxy and If were, particularly given its focus on the crucial early years of what has been our most reliably good magazine devoted to fantastic fiction. 

And among the questions raised by the early correspondence...supposedly Raymond Chandler had a number of fantasy manuscripts awaiting a market such as F&SF to arrive...one such, eventually having been published in a little magazine, was reprinted in the first issue of Fantastic in 1952, but what might've happened to any others that might've existed outside a casual mention by Chandler or the aspiring editors?

The contents: 
For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog. Index and photos courtesy ISFDB and Open Library. Below, the first and second issues of F&SF, and the contemporary issues of EQMM and The American Mercury from The Magazine of Fantasy's launch. George Salter was the art director at Mercury Press in those years, and designed the logos for F&SF and TAM.















































































































Friday, February 3, 2017

FFB: BETTER THAN ONE by Kate Wilhelm and Damon Knight (MCFI/NESFA Press 1980); BLACK COCKTAIL by Jonathan Carroll (Legend/Century 1990)

"...And you know two heads are better than one..." 
--Annie Ross
Better Than One was the only officially collaborative book that Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm published during his life and their long marriage; she was one of the most frequent as well as most important of the contributors to Knight's anthology series Orbit, and they are presences in each other's anthologies and nonfiction books, but they never formally collaborated on fiction; Knight refers to one abortive attempt early on, in the prefatory matter in this collection, which was published as a convention commemorative volume for the WorldCon, NorEasCon II in 1980 in Boston, where the couple were the Guests of Honor. (As with the books from Advent: Publishers, only with an even more obvious throughline, the book is now available from the subsequent publishing project NESFA Press.) ISFDB credits D. Christine Benders as editor, though the credit she takes is designer in the volume itself; it does seem likely that Knight and Wilhelm decided what went into the book. There are two introductions, one from each, which serve as brief memoirs of their lives together as partners and artists, followed by three poems by Knight, a prefatory note and the short story "Semper Fi" by Knight, a prefatory note and the short story "Baby, You Were Great" by Wilhelm, and four poems by Wilhelm. The stories deserve to be collected together inasmuch as Knight's story, originally published with some editorial fiddles as "Satisfaction" in Analog for August 1964, inspired Wilhelm to write hers, originally in the second Orbit anthology of original fiction in 1967. Both stories deal with virtual reality in a sense, with Knight's about the opportunities for people to create their own masturbatory playgrounds via a sort of interactive VR drawing on one's own imagination; Wilhelm, rather convinced that the technology that Knight described would probably be put to more social-controlling ends, posits instead a sort of remote experience of the lives of eventually unwilling stars of "reality" VR. Turns out they were both right, to the extent we've achieved a limited form of virtual reality and interactive programming. 

The two stories are not nearly the best single works by either writer, but are both good examples of what they can do, and the introductory matter is insightful and informative, and telling...particularly to the degree to which Knight's comments are more reserved, if clear in his gratitude for the life he has had with Wilhelm and illuminative of his artistic process (as Algis Budrys has noted about other Knight nonfiction, few could tell you more clearly how they go about the actual craft of writing than Knight), while Wilhelm's is more emotionally naked, providing a bit more of the sense of how their partnership worked and how it felt to live together and work separately; they are pretty obviously each other's biggest fans, though no more uncritically than you would expect two artists of their caliber to be.  Wilhelm's poetry gains a bit in comparison by her relative lack of reserve, feeling a bit less like exercises in the form (apparently, one of hers had been published elsewhere previously, though where is not cited; the balance of hers and all of his were apparently first published in the book), though both display their wit and grace.  Wilhelm continues to contribute notably to both fantastic and crime fiction; Knight is not as well-remembered as he should be but even last night, as I write, he was referenced blind on the topical comedy series @Midnight, in a game called "It's a Cookbook" where comedians were encouraged to mock silly or awful  examples of actual cookbooks...a reference to Knight's story "To Serve Man," also not his best but easily his most famous, and a fine more-than-a-joke story, slipped into the cultural surround in part by the adaptation on The Twilight Zone and reference to that episode by The Simpsons, those staples of proto-VR pop culture. 

US edition of the first collection with BC
While it's been collected twice since with short fiction by Jonathan Carroll, Black Cocktail was first published in both the UK and (in 1991) the US on its own, and is (surprisingly to me, considering how long I've had his books in my virtual TBR piles) the first longer fiction I've read by him.  I've had my copy of the St. Martin's Press hardcover of this one for a quarter-century, in fact, almost all of that time in a storage box, and that was my mistake...it's a good read, and I'm even more likely to pick up one of his novels soon. This one begins feeling a bit like Harlan Ellison's "Jeffty is Five"...only with a more sinister, not at all nostalgic mood...and ends with a sense of the same sort of Gestalt personality exploration that fascinated Theodore Sturgeon so fruitfully, and while the story, even given its excellent detail and grace and wit (and good choices of models to draw on...along with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Fritz Leiber, Shirley Jackson and a few other writers working similar territory over the the years) doesn't quite convince, finally, it's a more than game try, and you won't be likely to want to read something else while you're reading this one. The protagonist, mourning the loss of his life-partner, meets up with an enigmatic new man who turns out to have even more enigmatic friends...and an odd connection to people from the protagonist's past as well... Even more than the short stories I've read by Carroll over the years, this reminds me also of William Kotzwinkle's work, and that, too, is high praise. The jacket by Dave McKean is pretty brilliant; the interior illustrations, in black and white, are less effective, if appropriately moody.

The utterly spartan jacket for the first edition.
Peripheral facts: both these books have "officially" 76pp. of formal text (though as the index above notes that leaves out the overall introductions by Wilhelm and Knight); Knight's story appeared in the Analog for my birth-month; Wilhelm had essentially two "first" stories for professional publication--John W. Campbell had purchased Wilhelm's sf story "The Mile Long Spaceship" for Astounding Science Fiction (later known, as of 1960,  as Analog) before assistant editor Cele Goldsmith picked out KW's fantasy "The Pint-Sized Genie" for publication in Fantastic...but Fantastic published its story first...and Wilhelm was also soon selling crime fiction short stories and her first novel, More Bitter than Death, was cf...Knight's first professional publication had been a decade and half earlier, in Fantastic's elder stablemate Amazing, a cartoon (as Knight was initially as much visual as literary artist, but soon determined he was better at the latter...actually, he was better at the former than he gave himself credit for, if still a better writer)...one of the few reasons I was a bit sad to leave New Hampshire behind in 1979 for Hawaii, not quite as acute as leaving my few good friends and some other good people (though also not a few jerks) was that I really wouldn't've minded attending the 1980 WorldCon in Boston. As it was, I didn't get to one till 2001, the one just before 9/11. 

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

Lucky Cluadia got hers signed...but had to or chose to sell it, or someone did for her...