Wednesday, December 6, 2023

SSW: "A Game of Vlet" by Joanna Russ (the final Alyx story) THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, February 1974, edited by Edward L. Ferman: Short Story Wednesday

Joanna Russ was perhaps less prolific than she hoped to be, afflicted as she was with distractingly painful back problems in the last decades of her life (she noted she could only write comfortably while standing, and eventually that didn't help, either), and this might've contributed to the relatively few stories (including a short novel and several novelets) in her influential Alyx series of sword & sorcery fantasies (some science-fantasies, as s&s fiction often dances across that line, if rarely into out and out science fiction), some of the earlier examples to feature a woman protagonist (Catherine L. Moore and her Jirel of Joiry stories were among the relatively few predecessors). Nonetheless, her body of work, nonfiction (including a lot of literary criticism) and mostly early poetry along with her fiction, was influential and often controversial, some of it intentionally, some of it simply because there were too many too easily outraged. 

Most of the Alyx stories have been collected in the volumes Alyx (Gregg Press 1976) and The Adventures of Alyx (Pocket Books 1983), but for whatever reason, Russ didn't choose to have today's story, "A Game of Vlet", included in either collection...perhaps because she chose to see the story as a sort of coda to the others, perhaps because she distances even the character in the story from the others by never naming Alyx thus in the 1974 story, though it seems pretty clear we are to understand the trickster and predator on the elite in "Vlet" is Alyx. 

The Library of America has produced an omnibus of Russ's work, this one perhaps most driven by the novel The Female Man and its companion story "When It Changed", and the Alyx cycle, collected here with the novellas On Strike Against God (which in contemporary-mimetic terms deals with some of the aspects of The Female Man, and has been too long out of print), "Souls" and the novel We Who Are About To... (this last in part a slap at and refutation of insanely antifeminist strands in sf perpetuated by such writers as Randall Garrett ["Queen Bee"] and particularly and most directly Marion Zimmer Bradley [Darkover Landfall]; Russ and Bradley had an exchange of letters about Vonda McIntyre's unfavorable review of the Bradley novel in the early feminist fantasy/sf fanzine The Witch and the Chameleon, and excerpts from the letters can be read here

Russ contributes one of her series of book review columns to this issue as well; the issue can be read here; "A Game of Vlet" follows the review essay.

But it is useful, as LOA editor Nicole Rudick notes, to have all the Alyx stories together, and in introducing "A Game of Vlet" for "The Story of the Week" web-feature, she notes that Russ's friend Samuel Delany was inspired by this story to do his own sword & sorcery sequence of stories, the Neveryon cycle (as well as having characters play Vlet in his sf novel Triton), and that Russ was in turn sparked to write this story by Avram Davidson's historical fantasy The Phoenix and the Mirror, in which Vergil Magus attempts to create a virgin speculum, with certain powers it confers. Rudick doesn't note the degree to which Russ's friend Fritz Leiber, a grandmaster in chess competitions, made chess and chess-like gaming a part of his s&s series of stories, running from vignettes and novels, and vlet if anything is a magically-powerful elaboration on chess (Russ and Leiber also wrote one story each in their sword and sorcery cycles that features the character from the other's...Fafhrd, the Leiber character who is in a few ways based on Leiber himself appears in Russ's "I Thought She Was Afeard Until She Stroked My Beard", and Alyx, based in a few ways on Russ, appears in Leiber's "The Two Best Thieves in Lankhmar")...Leiber's and Russ's careers had certain other parallels, as well, quite aside from being two of the most literarily innovative writers in fantastica. As was Davidson, as Delany remains, albeit he's moving, I think, toward complete retirement in re: fiction-writing.

The story is politically charged and cleverly worked out, and brief...Russ noted that she had no more stories to write about Alyx after its publication; had she lived longer and more healthily, she might've eventually found some more to say. Alyx in her late years might've made an excellent study.

Previously to the LOA omnibus, the only Russ volume "A Game of Vlet" was included in was the fine collection The Zanzibar Cat, which saw a small-press-run edition from Arkham House (with a rather ugly cover) and a somewhat better package from Baen Books (I believe I have both editions in the chaotic personal library):

ISFDB is only aware of it having been otherwise reprinted in the French edition (but not the US ones) of Jessica Amanda Salmonson's anthology Amazons! and Joan and Fred Saberhagen's chess fantasy story anthology Pawn to Infinity (the ISFDB doesn't yet have a complete entry on the LOA omnibus). At this moment, the FictionMags Index doesn't have "Vlet" tagged as an Alyx story. We'll see about getting these lacunae filled...

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

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Some 1949-1958 US television Xmas/related programming of sorts!

US commercial television syndicationTHE CHRISTMAS CAROL (sic), as narrated by Vincent Price, and commissioned by television manufacturer Magnavox in 1949 and fed to 22 stations in its first run. One of the earlier US non-network productions to have survived, and apparently the earliest known extant US television adaptation of the Dickens story. The younger Cratchit daughter was played by Jill St. John when she went by Jill Oppenheim, apparently among her first professional credits (at age 9).


ParamounTelevision NetworkTIME FOR BEANY, #421, 11 April 1951 (as you might gather, I haven't found a more Solstice-adjacent episode, but at leasthis episode makes gratuitous reference to Ina Ray Hutton, also [with her Orchestra] on Paramount's never-too-robust early-mid '50s L. A.-based networkBob Clampett, Stan Freberg, Daws Butler, et al.--Albert Einstein and the young Frank Zappa among the devoted fans. Won three Emmy Awards and was nominated for a Peabody Award and thus was the most honored Paramount Network series, and the '60s Beany and Cecil cartoon was a revival). 

DuMont Network: CAVALCADE OF STARS, "A Honeymooners Christmas", 21 December 1951, with Art Carney, Joyce Randolph, Jackie Gleason and Pert Kelton in this pre-Audrey Meadows performance ...when the Honeymooners were a recurring sketch on the variety series...

NBC: YOUR HIT PARADE, Christmas Eve 1955 episode. Absolutely nothing non-pop, even given the #1 song for this episode is "Sixteen Tons", not even performed by Tennessee Ernie Ford much less the Merle Travis original, but by Snooky Lanson. Buthe Xmas music is mostly well-performed...

Canadian Annex: CBC: ON THE  SPOT, "Christmas Comes Twice";  a 1955 episode from OTS 's first season, abouthe seasonal celebrations of Ukrainian-Canadians, and their aspirations for an independent Ukraine.

CBSTHE JACK BENNY PROGRAM, 1957 tv version of "Christmas Shopping"; here's the 1960 version. And the 1961 "Christmas Party" episode.

ABC: AMERICAN BANDSTAND, 18 December 1957, apparently in the first season of national broadcast. Apparently also, a 25 Dec-scheduled episode was recorded (presumably earlier on)...unavailable, as far as I see now.

NTA Film NetworkART FORD'S JAZZ PARTY, "Tribute to Buddy Bolden", the final episode, transmitted 0n WNTA on 25 December 1958 and soft-fed to affiliates (the link includes three not quite complete episodes, including the New Orleans jazz special that was held for the final episode, last of the three). Part of Jazz Party's wide distribution cited during the second episode in the IA queue was due to its clearance on the US Armed Forces television services around the world, and perhaps some local civilian clearance in some countries.

NET (National Educational Television): A LARGE SPECK OF PROGRESS, a short 1958 fantasy parable, not light-handed but certainly earnest and rather cleverly produced on a budget at the Ann Arbor/University of Michigan production studio, presumably for first broadcast on DetroiNET station WTVS (more than a decade before PBS supplanted NET as the primary US national public-broadcasting network).

Happy Solstice/New Year Holidays!

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

SSW: "The Dead Women" by Marguerite Young, AMERICAN PREFACES, V.8 #3, 1943 issue, edited by Louise Garrigus/Jean Garrigue and Paul Engle; "The Day They Got Boston" by Herbert Gold, METRONOME, January 1961, edited by Bill Coss: Short Story Wednesday

stories by Herbert Gold (March 9, 1924-November 19, 2023) and Marguerite Young (August 26, 1908-November 17, 1995)

One of Wilbur Schramm's last issues before going into military service athe end of 1942. A modest little magazine and rather obscure today, apparently initially 16pp per issue, and founded by Schramm in 1935 at the University of Iowa, along with his founding and serving as firschair of the Iowa Writer's Workshop in 1936. Louise Garrigus (later more famous as poet and academic Jean Garrigue), apparently a former student of Young's at Shortridge High School in Indianapolis, and later, briefly roommates, edited, with Paul Engle, what final, 1943 issues were published, including Volume 8, Number 3, which featured Young's story..."The Dead Women" is only one of three short stories (0ne previously unpublished) the Dalkey Archive chose to include in their 1994 retrospective collection of her prose, Inviting the Muses, which they wanted to offer alongside their reprint of her famously large 1965 novel Miss Mackintosh, My Darling, and apparently either the only ones she had chosen to keep or the only three she had written or finished--most of her early publications had been poetry (which Sublunary Press has reprinted), and the Muses volume is mostly made up of her short essays and book reviews (she also has at least two notable book-length nonfiction works, one on utopian community experiments in the U.S., and one on Eugene V. Debs, the union and US Socialist Party cofounder, and a presidential candidate who ran in his last campaign from prison, as the wildly overrated Woodrow Wilson couldn't tolerate critique of WWI).

There are some similarities among the three stories, the previously unpublished one which leads off, "My Grandmother's Foot" deals in part with importunate men, disability, and at least one woman with unbreakable spirit; "Old James" (from the Kenyon Review) touches on similar matters. But "The Dead Women" is a brief story about a mortuary cosmetologist, as she goes about her work on various cadavers, including one old man but mostly women, trying to suss out how they best would've liked to be presented for the last time, while being interrupted by her father and her father-in-law, importunate old men (and one with a damaged foot), and thinking about how she has been coping and will cope with her pregnancy, as the various tasks we read about occur at various stages of her gestation; happily, her husband is utterly supportive, if mostly "off-stage" in the narrative, but she has nothing but good memories of her man, while doing her best not to be too distracted by the older gen and their chatter and attempts at charming bluster. It's a solid story, makes its points reasonably subtly, and reflects some of Young's early experience in the rural Midwest. 

The Paris Review and The New Yorker on Young and Miss Mackintosh, My Darling.

Not the correct issue of Metronome, either! See below.
Meanwhile, Herbert Gold, who died the other day at age 99, was once one of the most prolific and prominently-published young writers in the U. S., and kept up a rather consistent career well into his later life...not least known for his satiric view of lust and love, and for similar drives in our lives and those of others like or somewhat unlike us (the first novel I read of his was Salt, about  aggressive businessmen and how they work and live)...par
ticularly as he would write some fantastica throughout his career. "The Day They Got Boston" is a densely mocking account of how the Soviet Union manages to accidentally nuke the Hub and some of its environs one day in the world as it existed in 1961, and what the metaphorical as well as actual fallout might be--mutations from exposure to radioactivity particularly noted at Seven Sisters colleges, the bargaining for which Soviet city will be destroyed in penance for Boston/Cambridge, how De Gaulle demands France be allowed in on the Fun. (This was written and published before the novel [or film] Fail-Safe, though after the straitlaced initial inspiration for Dr. Strangelove, Red Alert, was published.) It perhaps betrays 1961 a bit in that it doesn't seem to occur to Gold that Seven Sisters women might not need exposure to radiation to find sexual and romantic comfort in each other...

This story was actually published not in the issue of jazz magazine Metronome pictured above, but like the American Prefaces issue pictured above, its a poachable image of an issue of the venerable music magazine, devoted mostly to jazz for some decades by 1961, within some months of it, too, folding, at the end of '61...even as the magazine was branching out into interesting, even avant-garde fiction as well as music coverage...the January issue (which can be read in its entirety at that link, though I haven't yet fiddled with it enough to copy the cover image), with the Gold story, also includes an early English translation of Alfred Jarry, and Jack Gelber's court-driven crime story, "The King of Shades"...along with such more usual Metronome content as Nat Hentoff's assessment of the Third Stream (the confluence of jazz and classical music, ranging from George Russell, and Max Roach and Jimmy Giuffre in some projects, Teo Macero and the Brubeck Quartet and the Modern Jazz Quartet, to Gunther Schuller and David Amram, to Ellington and Gershwin and other earlier explorers), and a featured item by a young jazz journalist, Ted White (not yet assisting at The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, much less editing Fantastic and Amazing), a profile/albums-review piece about Charles Mingus's work (speaking of those who would enrich the Third Stream) that particularly pleased Mingus for Getting what he was doing, and which I take to be White's proudest achievement in his early jazz journalism.

Sadly, even the distributor label on the cover of the January Metronome, Acme, boded ill...Acme, ironically, was a bottom of the market magazine distributor, and even though they would distribute the no-budget Robert Lowndes-edited Magazine of Horror and other worthy titles in the years to come, were not a sign of robust commercial prospects for any magazine.

A somewhat healthier commercial property, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, decided to pick up the Gold story for reprint in their September 1961 issue (which can be read at the link), as edited by Robert P. Mills (the most famous story published during the Mills editorship might well still be the most famous the magazine has ever published, the short form of "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes--though Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron" and Stephen King's first version [and terrible juvenilia as first published] of "The Gunslinger" are among the challengers there). The F&SF reprint is lacking the couple of illustrations in the jazz magazine (one of which doesn't reproduce well at all online, alas, at least apparently), but the filler that follows "Boston" is its own kind of curiosa, being one of the "Ferdinand Feghoot" pun anecdotes that Reginald Bretnor would write for the magazine, signing himself as "Grendel Briarton", and in this case crediting "Herman W. Mudgett" with inspiration for the pun which ends it..."Mudgett" being one of the names of the Chicago Exposition Devil in the White City murderer and a pseudonym that "Tony Boucher"/William White would use, in his capacity as F&SF editor before Mills, to sign short light verse used as fillers in his issues.  The joke is premised upon a 1967 crisis at Fort Knox that is solved mostly by still-president John F. Kennedy, Sr., "still alert and decisive"...which takes on a special poignance, particularly for his admirers, considering this is the 60th anniversary of JFK's assassination (and the wounding of John Connally) as I write this...

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

SSW: "Dead Women" by Allie Mariano, PHILADELPHIA STORIES, Fall 2020; Fiction Editor: Teresa Sari FitzPatrick

Can be read here:

The FictionMags discussion list had a bit of a discussion of Marguerite Young a few weeks back, sparked by a New Yorker "rediscovery" of her most ridiculously long novel (half a decade ago, The Paris Review likewise took a whack). Given how Young tended to be drawn to subjectthat I am also, I was moved to search for her shorter work I thought I might've read over the years, and "The Dead Women" (collected in the Dalkey Archive retrospective Inviting the Muses: Stories, Essays, Reviews1994) proved elusive (if easier to find when one isn't catching something, but instead recovering), buthis story, with a similar title, popped up, and given I've not mentioned anything from Philadelphia Stories for a while...

Allie Mariano's story is deftly-written, a relatively slow burn as it contrasts a youngish academic's unwise affair with a married man (riddled with the usual character's [and people's?] fantasies of How Everything Will Surely Go Swimmingly) and a party being thrown by elder fellow academics who set her up, to some degree, with an Appropriate Young Male Relative, as the dinner  conversation is dominated by recent revelations, in this New Orleans-set story, of a string of murders of young women sex workers. Everything, including a lonely middle-aged male highway patrolman pulling her over on her way home to her paramour after the party, touches on the potential menace of contemporary life, invited and otherwise, and while it's not a revelation of a story, I'll take a look at further work by Mariano. 

Philadelphia Stories is a freely-distributed slim print magazine, as well as web presence, that has been visible in the city and environs for more than two decades, and more power to it. For more of today's short stories, please see Patti Abbott's blog, where these are gathered weekly.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

20th Anniversary Issues: THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION October 1969, edited by Edward Ferman, and FANTASTIC August 1972, edited by Ted White: Short Story Wednesday

Perhaps unsurprisingly for 20th Anniversary issues of fantasy/sf magazines, or for any gathering of fiction, considerations of time (and, often, loss) loom large in the stories in these two issues. Slightly odd that two magazines which have been, at times at least in their previous histories, famous as homes for women writers in fantastica should produce "all-stag" anniversary celebration issues, albeit in the case of Fantastic, Alice (at conventions, going by nickname "Racoona") Sheldon was still hiding behind the "James Tiptree, Jr." pseudonym, and cover artist Jeff Jones was eventually to transition to womanhood and take on the name Jeffrey Catherine Jones in 1998; "Ova Hamlet" as the pseudonym Richard Lupoff used for his parody stories for Fantastic, mostly, was a Very open non-secret (part of the gag was that Lupoff was serving as interlocutor for the eccentric "Hamlet"). 

That said, these are impressive issues, helping to kick off good decades artistically for both magazines, and eventually financially for F&SF, at least.

The best stories in either issue are, I'd say at this hour, Robert Bloch's time-travel (of a sort) and definitely afterlife fantasy "The Movie People", which incorporates his love for film and his experiences as both youthful film fan and eventual professional screenwriter, and Tiptree's "Forever to a Hudson Bay Blanket", very much a time-travel story and yet also deeply encoding some of her lived experience as a young debutante (and, to a much lesser extent, her later life as an OSS/CIA staffer). I haven't yet read the Conan pastiche by de Camp and Carter, nor this part of the eventual Ursus of Ultima Thule by Avram Davidson, but the introduction to the first part of the serial, giving some of the events in the previous segment published as a standalone story in the sf magazine Worlds of If, is indicative of Davidson in one of his favorite modes, writing about the origins of the mythology he's mining for the story, and the sort of thing he eventually would write at length in the essays collected as Adventures in Unhistory...which is highly recommended.

Barry Malzberg, the editor of Fantastic and stablemate Amazing before White, as well as contributor to this issue, would later collect the Tiptree story in his 2003 anthology The Best Time Travel Stories of All Time, as well as it being first collected in Sheldon/Tiptree's first, widely-hailed collection, Ten Thousand Light Years from Home. Bloch's "The Movie People" has also been widely collected, in his The Best of Robert Bloch and many other volumes, in translation as well as the original.

Please see Patti Abbott's blog for more complete considerations of their objects of discussion and review, and a fine new poem she's composed commemorating the birthday of her late husband, the political science professor and historian Philip Abbott (whose favorite short story was E. M. Forster's seminal sf story, "The Machine Stops")...

Thursday, October 5, 2023

SSW/P: New MacArthur Fellow Manuel Muñoz quotes lines from Rita Dove's poem "Fantasy and Science Fiction" (about her early reading of THE MAGAZINE OF F&SF and other things) as epigraph for his story collection THE CONSEQUENCES...

Renee Shea: The epigraph to this collection is five lines from a poem, “Fantasy and Science Fiction,” by Rita Dove, but I’m not sure how they speak to you about what you’re doing in these stories.

Manuel Muñoz: It’s a nod to how I have received stories from my parents, but, I, in turn, have not really shared any of my own. It’s well understood in my family that I’m out, but we don’t talk about it. All of the personal stories of mine about love or rejection or partnership aren’t shared or even asked about. That’s not what the Dove poem is actually about, but the lines struck me: the privacy and intimacy of encountering or experiencing story: “shutting a book . . . you can walk off the back porch / and into the sea—though it’s not the sort of story / you’d tell your mother."



Rita Dove:


At the same time, my brother, two years my senior, had become a science fiction buff, so I’d read his Analog and Fantasy and Science Fiction magazines after he was finished with them. One story particularly fascinated me: A retarded boy in a small town begins building a sculpture in his backyard, using old and discarded materials—coke bottles, scrap iron, string, and bottle caps. Everyone laughs at him, but he continues building. Then one day he disappears. And when the neighbors investigate, they discover that the sculpture has been dragged onto the back porch and that the screen door is open. Somehow the narrator of the story figures out how to switch on the sculpture: The back door frame begins to glow, and when he steps through it, he’s in an alternate universe, a town the mirror image of his own—even down to the colors, with green roses and an orange sky. And he walks through this town until he comes to the main square, where there is a statue erected to—who else?—the village idiot.

I loved this story, the idea that the dreamy, mild, scatter-brained boy of one world could be the hero of another. And in a way, I identified with that village idiot because in real life I was painfully shy and awkward; the place where I felt most alive was between the pages of a book.

Dove's poem first published in Ploughshares, Spring 1987and included in her Collected Poems 1974–2004 (Norton) and...

in Grace Notes...

(h/to Paul Di Filippo for the IA citation)