Friday, July 11, 2008

Friday "Forgotten" Books: Thomas M. Disch's ON WINGS OF SONG

So, taking all things together, on July 4th, Thomas Disch decided he might as well shoot himself, and did so successfully. Things had not been going well for him...he was 68 and diabetic and having some motility troubles, his life partner Charles Naylor had died a couple years back, he was worried about being evicted from his rent-controlled apartment, his summer home had been flooded and damaged beyond habitability, his fiction was largely out of print despite being usually good to brilliant and occasionally, however briefly, on bestseller lists. He wrote a novelet that spun out a Disney franchise, "The Brave Little Toaster," but apparently his agent was eaten by Hollywood sharks, got him a bad deal. He was at least a semi-major poet, widely published, as Tom Disch, in the likes of Poetry and The Hudson Review; his criticism appeared in Harper's and The Nation and Chronicles and Entertainment Weekly as well as F&SF, and that's a range. He was one of Cele Goldsmith/Lalli's "discoveries" at Fantastic and Amazing, along with Kate Wilhelm and Ursula K. Le Guin and Roger Zelazny and Keith Laumer and Ben Bova and fellow poet Sonya Dorman as a writer of prose. His friend John Clute, in a much-quoted phrase, called him the Least Read of major sf writers; Teresa Nielsen Hayden in her blog Making Light repeated the rumor that the Bantam paperback edition of his novel On Wings of Song had a 90% stripped cover return rate...perhaps not too surprising, although the cover isn't nearly as ugly as the one Bantam slapped on Samuel Delany's selection of Disch's shorter works, Fundamental Disch. Even given that Wings was nominated in 1980 for the American Book Award, in that brief period when the National Book Award didn't exist, which I think was the first and maybe only time so far a book serialized in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Ficiton was nominated for a major eclectic award. When I asked the manager of Philadelphia's lesbian and gay, bi and cetera, bookstore Giovanni's Room why they didn't stock more, say, Disch and Joanna Russ, he noted that they had had a copy or two of Wings on their shelves for years, without a purchase.

I don't believe it was Disch's first fiction with a gay theme nor surely his first about repression and cruelty and how the arts could help set you free, to some small could hardly even call it particularly Coded, since at the center of the story is a means to achieve a sort of astral projection, or "flying," that is achieved most easily through song and which results in one's out of body self being referred to as a fairy. Such flying is particularly frowned upon in the repressive, Moral Majority-administered Midwest, which region Disch fled as a young man, but is at least tolerated in the "decadent" or at times simply decadent coastal cities, which have an uneasy relation with the almost seceded "heartland." One of the young protagonist's closest acquaintances, for example, is an aging member of a new class of castrati, as this practice has apparently come back into vogue in the opera world of the near future.

Clearly, a more personal novel, even or particularly with the baroque touches, than what Disch had been writing previously, including such notable work as Black Alice, a crime novel in collaboration with John Sladek, and his masterpiece 334.

He also wrote a Miami Vice episode. And did some minor acting, in opera and in a no-budget indy film.

And more people really should read his work.

For more "forgotten" books which shouldn't be, see Patti Abbott's sample citations and list of links at her blog PattiNase

Friday, July 4, 2008

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: 3 Books by Friends

Inasmuch as I (and several others) jumped the gun in suggesting a young reader's book (or several, as I did) a week ahead of time, I will leapfrog over the measly Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction/Tin House one-underappreciated-book at a time portions and go for the NPR 3 book handful...and to add to the questionability, I'll make it three books by friends I've essentially lost touch with, and with three books that demonstrate at least three kinds of stupid publisher trick.

Victoria Rader's Signal Through the Flames: Mitch Snyder and America's Homeless (1986) got one of its too-few reviews in the journal Social Anarchism, by me. The really inept jub of publishing the book done by Sheed and Ward, the book arm of The National Catholic Reporter, didn't help...few POD publishers today could cough up a more typo-ridden or clumsy-looking package. But this was the first book-length study of the Community for Creative Non-Violence, pegged on Snyder but not to the exclusion of the rest of the CCNV, aince he had already had a tv movie based on him with Martin Sheen assaying the role, and not too long before Snyder's suicide...and as such, it remains at least a near-major book, and things haven't exactly changed so very much under the Reaganesquely hostile presidential administrations, very much including Clinton's, toward the problems of homelessness.

I actually haven't read Robert Onopa's The Pleasure Tube (1979) yet. I've lent out two different copies of this horribly packaged paperback, and haven't ever gotten either back; having bought a third copy just before one of my recenter relocations, it's in one of the boxes waiting for me to disinter it. Algis Budrys wrote one of his more interesting F&SF critical columns comparing it, and Onopa, to the Robinsons' Stardance, and how both books were among other things sf novels that were heavily informed by the practice of other sorts of literary and extra-literary art in such a way that we hadn't quite seen before. And, Budrys noted, Onopa had been forced from his editorial gig at TriQuarterly in the aftermath of tantrums on the part of someone, apparently including lodged-pole subscribers, who could handle the baroque adventure issue and the western fiction issue that preceded it, but couldn't tolerate Onopa's fine sf issue of TQ. Onopa was full of encouragement as a professor of creative writing at the University of Hawaii, and put me up for the campus writing award, the Myrle Clark, after I had a tough round of luck, including a stormy, brief tenure as the youngest editor of Hawaii Review, thus far and possibly since (I was foolishly proud that I'd managed to score such a gig when a whole year younger than Frederik Pohl had been when appointed editor of his two sf pulps in the latest '30s). For Onopa's part, fellow little magazine editor David Hartwell (in fact, Hartwell's little magazine of note had been the poetry-heavy The Little Magazine) was making his mark as an sf editor at Berkley/Putnam when he bought The Pleasure Tube ("organically a piece of experimental writing"--close paraphrase, Budrys again), then promptly took a job offer at Pocket Books and the successor at Berkley treated the novel as a very redheaded stepchild, slapping a remarkably ugly cover and insane slugline {"Beyond the star range, infinite sex and ultimate horror" or something vaguely Japanese shopping bag English like that--looking at the cover picture again, exactly that), killing it. Onopa has released at least two collections of short stories since, but, I believe, he hasn't published another novel.

And Onopa was instrumental in hiring A. A. Attanasio as a graduate writing seminar instructor at U Hawaii in 1983, and in allowing me to take the 600-level class as a sophomore. Al was between the flush of great commercial success, even more in translation than in the original, of Radix, and his particularly British bestseller-chart riding with his Arthurian fantasy sequence, and was working particularly on a massive fantasy novel, working title Siggy Lindo (its protagonist's name). Having done several good-sellers with HarperCollins, Al's editor left (frequently bad, it seems) and the new editor had the kind of breadth of spirit and imagination as to apparently resent that Al, with that Y chromosone and all, might want to write a bugcrusher of a book about a woman, Siggy. The book had already been bought by HarperCollins, but that didn't mean she couldn't cut it to something like a quarter of its length, and retitle it The Moon's Wife (1993)...and otherwise made sure it sold so poorly that it was the first of Al's major-publisher books to never be issued in paperback, or get another US edition. It's still brilliant, even in its Reader's Digest form, but I still wonder what a full, finished Siggy Lindo might've been...or might yet be.

Friday "Forgotten" Books, Junior Edition: THE LONER by Ester Wier

The Scholastic Books edition I had.
I was hoping that with my young readers' pick for this special week's list of books that shouldn't be forgotten, I might finally light on a book that wasn't out of print...after all, this one was a Newbery Award runner-up or "Honor Book" in 1964 (it lost to Emily Neville's It's Like This, Cat, which is very much like a less intense urban variation on The Loner; Sterling North's rustic memoir of his boyhood pet raccoon, Rascal, might've drawn some of the votes or attention from the jury The Loner might otherwise have received). Scholastic had had it in print, albeit with a much worse cover painting than the late '60s paperback edition I first read, as late as a few years ago. But no longer...though, of course, it's still available secondhand. And as about as searing a contemporary western as you could imagine being slanted toward young readers.

The initially nameless protagonist, a young boy abandoned by his family or having survived them and traveling with sharecroppers across the Southern US, loses his first true friend, and budding romantic interest, in a horrible accident. Despondent over losing her, he simply starts walking, eventually to be found, collapsed and more than half-dead, by a Montana sheep rancher and her hands. She takes him in, and the rest of the novel is about David, he names himself after the Old Testament shepherd, attempting to grow into the role of young man and member of the family and crew. As simple as that, but told, as I remember it, with economy and grace, and not a little grit (the killing of his girlfriend in the first five pages isn't the only tough incident in the book, even if it is by far the worst).

This was my favorite novel when I was a nine- and ten year old, and I've always thought it was robbed of its Newbery (even if Cat is almost as good; Rascal, not really aimed at kids anyway, isn't in the same league). It neatly displaced Eleanor Clymer's excellent, gritty, urban (and pitched even younger) My Brother Stevie from favorite novel status, and even as I read any number of excellent (and some strikingly bad) novels from the Newbery shortlists, The Loner endured as the most meaningful to me. It didn't hurt that it was adapted into one of the best of the Miller-Brody Productions audio dramatizations my local library in Enfield, Connecticut, circulated...hearing just a few of those led me to the Newberys, and on occasion the adaptations outshone the books. Not in the case of Wier's novel, however...for some reason I didn't seek out more of her books, although she published a number. Too busy reading all I could of Twain and Kipling, horror and humor anthologies, mythology and folktale collections, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents: volumes, and whatever else interesting-looking that came my way...I think Keith Robertson's Henry Reed's Journey was the closest challenger among YA novels, with such wonders as Jean George's (very grim) Julie of the Wolves, E. L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, M. E. Kerr's books and that not-yet a trilogy much less a longer series A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door all coming up fast.

See the link pile of others' suggestions, and, I hope, Patti's own: 

 These are the editions I read of the other shortlisters for 1964 (published 1963).

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

index: ASSA #2

ASSA, No. 2, 2008, Edited and published by Juri Nummelin. 2 Euros/issue postpaid. ISSN 1797-0431. 24 pp, sextodecimo. Cover and
illustrations: clip and found art.

2 * Tomittajalta * Juri Nummelin * ed
3 * Ruohikon Madonna * JT Ellison * vi (trans. Juri Nummelin, hereafter JN) ("Madonna in the Grass" FLASH PAN ALLEY 7 May 2007)
6 * Breikkausta * John Weagly * vi (trans. JN) ("Breaking" FLASHING IN THE GUTTERS 2006)
8 * Linnuille ruokaa * Patricia J. Hale * vi (trans. JN) ("Bird Feed"
10 * Viiskymppia kerta, muru * Pasi Karppanen * vi
11 * Minun sankarini * Patricia Abbott * vi (trans. JN)("My Hero"
14 * Lopusta alkuun * Salla Simukka * vi/ex?
15 * Aariviivat * Tapani Bagge * vi/ex?
16 * Jalleennakeminen * Todd Mason * vi (trans. JN) ("Reunion"
[forthcoming chapbook edited by Mildred Perkins])
18 * Joe Novak ja helpon tapausksen tapaus * Juri Nummelin * vi
20 * Halvaantunut tappajasimpanssi * Pearce Hansen * vi (trans. JN) ("Paraplegic Killer Chimp" POWDER BURN FLASH 1 April 2008)

Please forgive any misspellings or misconstructions (beyond the regrettable lack of umlauts). What Finnish needs is more syllables in its words, much as Hawaiian does.

The various English language sources are webzines/blogs save the chapbook, which I'm not sure has a working title yet.