Friday, October 31, 2008

Election time.

Just to suppress any reader interest, I'll note that I'm voting for the Nader & Gonzalez ticket. I might've considered voting for the Green ticket, but the Presidential candidate strikes me as a bit of a paranoid and the Veep candidate took the opportunity of her nomination to hype her new recording project (still no more irresponsible than Biden nor Palin). Wish I shared McCain's rhetorical conviction that Obama was likely to be the most leftist President we've ever seen, but I foresee an insufficient improvement upon the Nixonian Clinton Admin. But almost everything should be an improvement over the current Kleptocrat regime.

Two things that have occurred to me over the last month or so...first that a rather impressive number of our Presidents and the "major" aspirants to the job have had miserable relations with their fathers. Obama, McCain, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and going back a ways. Certainly Nixon.

Second, and I might just be tired enough to forget seeing others' citation of this, but a military record seems to be the New Short in presidential politics...the guy with the most prominent military record tends to lose, both in the primaries and particularly, if he survives, in the general election. See, certainly: McCain, most likely, Kerry, Gore (although by any reasonable standard, of course, Gore won and gave up), Dole, senior Bush, Carter (at least vs. Reagan), McGovern.

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.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The worst national television series that come to mind:

This began as a comment on Bill Crider's blog, wherein low-budget Houston commercial station Channel 55 is hoping to run a block of Really Bad programming to draw fans of such. Such worthy contenders as MANIMAL and TJ HOOKER and HOMEBOYS FROM OUTER SPACE were mentioned by commenters on both Bill's post and the HOUSTON CHRONICLE posting of the story.

But these all came to me quickly...

THE REAL WORLD OF TAMMY FAYE (THE VIEW may not look less inane in comparison, but certainly less insane.)
THE RICHARD BEY SHOW (though only JENNY JONES among the tabloid talk shows actually got anyone killed, I think)
THE RAT PATROL (sorry, James and Bill...but this has been my high-water mark for mindless he-man drama since seeing it as an adolescent, and in this case, that's a bad thing.)
STRANGE PARADISE (the soap-opera Jamaican? zombies DARK SHADOWS ripoff)
ON THE AIR (the complete misfire historical comedy-drama project of Lynch and Snow after TWIN PEAKS--though the similar REMEMBER WENN was nearly as dire)
IN SEARCH OF, narrated by L. Nimoy
THE 700 CLUB (lies, damned lies, and begging for money to deliver more)
ALIAS, perhaps the most overrated terrible show thus far
FRAIDY CAT, just the worst Saturday Morning cartoon I've ever seen, though LAND OF THE LOST might just be the worst of the "live-action" Saturday morning dramas...or at least features the worst acting I've seen just about anywhere.
THE CHAIR and THE CHAMBER, game shows involving actual torture

My father would want me to add MOTHERS IN LAW...I haven't had the pleasure of that one, nor DR. SIMON LOCKE, YOU'RE IN THE PICTURE, MY MOTHER THE CAR, or any one of a number of truly atrocious-sounding programs.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: Patti Abbott's Meme

We're off to an early start with Friday's "Forgotten" Books, being caretaken by me this week while Patti Abbott, the instigator and usual host, is attempting a vacation.

The idea: is there a book, or for many participants one of a number of books, that you feel is unfairly obscure, or at least important enough that you'd like to write a brief blurb touting it to the assembled blogosphere? Please write that up for Friday morning-afternoon posting (or when you can get it in), post it on your blog, and let me know you've done so, with your blog entry address, please. If you don't have a blog and want to play, I'll post your piece on my blog if you like.

David Corbett stakes a claim on The Rap Sheet to suggest Pete Dexter's God's Pocket.

Bill Crider is the earliest entrant this week that I'm aware of, and his citation of Henry Kane's Too French and Too Deadly is here.

Lyman Feero suggests Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

Ed Gorman checks in with John D. MacDonald's Border Town Girl.

Lesa Holstine puts forward Stephen J. Cannell's King Con.

Steve Lewis cites Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm novel, The Ambushers.

And here's Robin Gorman Newman's citation of Patrick McDonnell's The Gift of Nothing.

James Reasoner offers Lewis B. Patten's Rope Law.

Susan (aka Susan259) chimes in with Todd Borg's Tahoe Deathfall.

Out of sheer bloody-mindedness, here's Joe Boland's citation of Thomas Perry's Island, which was a late entry that didn't actually come to me.

And I, below, recommend William Kotzwinkle's The Exile, a novel, I suggest, that does correctly what D. M. Thomas's The White Hotel strives for and not quite gets to (albeit with less of it tied to Eros).

And the first of our Citations from Blogless Folk:

Lee Gold recommends Van Loon's Lives by Henrik Van Loon:

Van Loon's LIVES, a strange and wonderful book
by Henrik Van Loon, which chronicles a series
of dinner parties in a small Dutch town.
The setting is the late 1920s, and the dinner
host is a man who's doing quite well in the
stock market. He and his friend Van Loon have
found a way to invite dead folk as guests.

The host asks for a brief bio of the night's
guest or guests so he won't inadvertently say
anything rude.

So you get a bio, a list of the dishes served
(including recipes for some of them) and the music
played, the guest's arrival (Leonardo da Vinci comes
in on a glider; Dante arrives with Virgil and with
a demon who is given a pail of kerosene; St. Francis
gets a flock of birds who in turn get some bread and
a brief sermon), and the dinner table conversation.

One of the invitations goes to "the greatest inventor of
all time" -- and the hosts wait to see who it'll be.

Gradually things get darker. When Jefferson comes,
Van Loon gets a phone call that Hitler has just been
elected. On his return to the table, Jefferson asks
if anything is wrong, and Van Loon writes: 'I told him,
"An old friend is ill and may be dying." (I didn't tell
him that her name was Freedom.)'

The book ends because the hosts have to leave Europe
and move to America if they're going to be safe.

This is a strange and wonderful book, well worth looking

And Jim Ingraham:

Let me add Kate Chopin's The Awakening, published in 1899, to your list of "forgotten books."
Without the guilt and shame of two "fallen women" in Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and
Flaubert's Madame Bovary, Edna Pontellier is presented as a healthy young woman
who embraces and enjoys her sexuality in the "man's world" of the late l9th
century. The book destroyed Ms. Chopin's reputation and her career for it's
"wanton immorality," but it broke open the gates for the women's movement of the
20th century.

Anyone I've missed, please let me know at

Friday "Forgotten" Books: William Kotzwinkle's THE EXILE

William Kotzwinkle is one of the most evocative, and one of the wittiest, of our writers; frequently but not always a fantasist (his first masterpiece and one of his most exhilarating books, The Fan Man; a mass-market chapbook, no less, of his contemporary mimetic short story The Swimmer in the Secret Sea; and one of his most harrowing novels, the autobiographical/recent-past historical Jack in the Box are the major exceptions to the fantasticated trend I've read so far). Perhaps his most impressive novel, in a career studded with impressive novels, is one of his few that are, one hopes temporarily, out of print: The Exile.

David Caspian is an aging actor facing the typical runaround that a non-star encounters in Hollywood; simultaneously, he's increasingly finding himself living a parallel life as a black-market vendor back under the Nazi regime, named Felix. Increasingly, the Felix reality is taking up more and more of Caspian's life...and as dire as things are in 1980s/contemporary Hollywood, they are unsurprisingly that much grimmer under the Reich.

This is the novel of Kotzwinkle's that Michael Chabon might've written, and that D.M. Thomas did, less effectively, as The White Hotel...even if the Thomas was an unlikely bestseller. Happily, a number of Kotzwinkle's novels and novellas (the latter often heavily intertwined with Joe Servello's illustration) are in print, even if he's perhaps best known these days as the auteur of the Walter the Farting Dog easy readers...which might eventually outsell his only bestseller, the E.T. novelization (to which Kotzwinkle wrote a sequel...haven't tried these, but suspect that they are solid work, as much as the subject would allow).

Monday, June 9, 2008

Algis Budrys (January 9, 1931 – June 9, 2008)

Budrys, born Algirdas Jonas Budrys, was one of the school of writers mostly of science fiction who came of age in the earliest 1950s; he, along with Michael Shaara (who hit big with THE KILLER ANGELS), Harlan Ellison and Robert Sheckley and some others, went through college writing programs with the intent of bending those to the end of writing sf and fantasy. Budrys, who was for a while the golden boy of John W. Campbell, Jr. at ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION (and wrote some of the best work published in that magazine in the 1950s), wrote for most of the other relevant magazines of that decade, as well, including a few borderline-horror fantasies for BEYOND FANTASY FICTION and FANTASTIC UNIVERSE, and not a little borderline-horror sf, most famously in short form “Nobody Bothers Gus.” [This was originally written for the "Horror in Literature and Film" list at Indiana University.] By the end of the decade, he’d published several novels, including WHO? (rather blandly filmed in the 1970s) and what might be his magnum opus, THE DEATH MACHINE, a heavily symbolic sf novel that Fawcett Gold Medal issued as ROGUE MOON…a cast of functionally insane characters deal with an enigma of an alien labyrinth/device on the moon, which seems to kill anything that passes through it…much like the transportation device the humans use to get to it and back to Earth, which also kills at the transmission point and reassembles a person at the destination, with no sense of the death in the “new” transported person.

Budrys left sf, for the most part, to edit for various Chicago-based publishers, including PLAYBOY, and then for advertising work in the 1960s, though began a column of literary criticism for GALAXY magazine in 1965 which was of superior quality; these columns were later collected as BENCHMARKS: GALAXY BOOKSHELF (Southern Illinois University Press, 1985). Budrys continued to write fiction, including such crime fiction as the vicious “The Master of the Hounds,” throughout this period, and published a novel, THE IRON THORN, as a serial in WORLDS OF IF and with Gold Medal, who meddled with his title again (as THE AMSIRS AND THE IRON THORN). In the 1970s, he became the primary book reviewer for THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, and published another major novel, MICHAELMAS. He also was an instructor at the Clarion Workshops organized initially by Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm.

In the 1980s, he helped get the Writers of the Future and Artists of the Future programs off the ground, a rather controversial aspect of his career as they were funded by the Church of Scientology and made much in their promotional literature about L. Ron Hubbard’s significance as a literary figure; many critics felt the programs were merely means for the Church to burnish its image. Budrys by 1993 had stepped away from the WOTF program and began editing his own magazine, TOMORROW SPECULATIVE FICTION, which was published by Pulphouse Publishing for its first issue only, as Pulphouse was starting to collapse. Budrys took on the magazine as publisher as well, and produced bimonthly issues for several years, including the April, 1994 issue featuring Harlan Ellison’s “Attack at Dawn” and one vignette even shorter than that one, “Bedtime” by first-story tyro Todd Mason. The magazine also published considerable good to excellent fiction by old friends of Budrys and new writers, and ran a series of essays by Budrys on writing. He published one last excellent novel, HARD LANDING, complete in an issue of F&SF and also a paperback original (his only novel in hardcover first edition was MICHAELMAS).

Ill health had dogged Budrys for years, apparently mostly complications of diabetes, and his last public pronouncement suggested that he mostly had more pain to look forward to than that he was already in. Real Life Horror, indeed.

He was a complicated man, a great writer, and he won’t be forgotten, even if he never had all the audience he deserved.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Squirrelly. Really.

My friend Laura passes along:

Someone with too much time and money on her hands has 2000 little
costumes for her pet squirrel, and has a little industry of gift cards,
calendars, and stuffed toys based on pictures of the squirrel in

If you ever wanted to see a squirrel depicting Benazir Bhutto, a
praying Marine, a Florida survivalist, Jon Benet Ramsey, and so on,
click the link.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


This almost certainly wasn't the first HITCHCOCK anthology that I read, but it is the first that I owned a personal copy of, a Doubleday Book Club edition. How could any young reader (I was 10 at the time) manage to not have their doors blown off by a selection such as this:

First edition:
Random House, 1975, USA.
"Royal Jelly" by Roald Dahl
"Hijack" by Robert L. Fish
"Tomorrow and Tomorrow" by Adobe James
"Funeral in Another Town" by Jerry Jacobson
"A Case for Quiet" by William Jeffrey (Bill Pronzini and Jeffrey Wallman)
"A Good Head for Murder" by Charles W. Runyon
"The Invisible Cat" by Betty Ren Wright
"Light Verse" by Issac Asimov
"The Distributor" by Richard Matheson
"How Henry J. Littlefinger Licked the Hippies' Scheme to Take Over the Country by Tossing Pot in Postage Stamp Glue" by John Keefauver
"The Leak" by Jacques Futrelle
"All the Sounds of Fear" by Harlan Ellison
"Little Foxes Sleep Warm" by Waldo Carlton Wright
"The Graft is Green" by Harold Q. Masur
"View by Moonlight" by Pat McGerr
"There Hangs Death!" by John D MacDonald
"Lincoln's Doctor's Son's Dog" by Warner Law
"Coyote Street" by Gary Brandner
"Zombique" by Joseph Payne Brennan
"The Pattern" by Bill Pronzini
"Pipe Dream" by Alan Dean Foster
"Shottle Bop" by Theodore Sturgeon
"The Magnum" by Jack Ritchie
"Voices in the Dust" by Gerald Kersh
"The Odor of Melting" by Edward D. Hoch
"The Sound of Murder" by William P. McGivern
"The Income Tax Mystery" by Michael Gilbert
"Watch for It" by Joseph N. (aka Joe) Gores
"The Affair of the Twisted Scarf" by Rex Stout

I will have more to say about this volume and its brethren tomorrow, but right now I'm beat to the ground.

And here's Patti Abbott's list of links to the other Friday suggestions.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

a day like most days, only moreso, somehow

After eating brunch with Alice at the local Indian buffet, which was simultaneously hosting a large party of Russian-Americans, we came back home and watched Set It Off for the first time in a decade (not bad, but shall we say A Bit Melodramatically Stacked...but it certainly demonstrated that Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens could act), then watched the Libertarian Party nominate Bob Barr on C-SPAN, which might or might not cheer Barack Obama's people (while Mary Ruart got to be the Hillary Clinton of the LP); I mowed the lawn, and came back in to watch the (formerly Discovery) Science Channel's barely augmented simulcast of the NASA Channel's feed of the Phoenix landing, while flipping over to National Geographic Channel for Naked Science repeats on planetary astronomy matters from time to time. Seems an oddly cosmopolitan/wired day, though I haven't yet found out which LP candidate got the Veep nom.

Even without thinking about how my high school friendly acquaintance Jared Sanford's film Viva has been picked up for national distribution a year or so after its completion (it's actually more fully the baby of Jared's usual collaborator over the last decade or so, Anna Biller, mildly famous for very colorful and over the top productions of varying lengths), and wondering if the pickup was sparked by CBS's picking up the dramatic hour Swingtown, set in the same time and with an apparently not altogether different attitude (both about the suburban sexual loosening of the 1970s in the US)...and what, if anything, made these two events likely...the "key party" episode of Journeyman? The imminence of the US version of Life on Mars (an arguable 1970s time-travel drama, at least in its UK original playing on BBC America)? An attempt on following up on the contemporary Little Children and Shortbus with something harkening back to The Ice Storm, or someone noting that That '70s Show was over?

Or maybe I'm just croggled that, for example, my three best friends from my years in New Hampshire can all be traced online...two are varying sorts of engineer, albeit one is more visible through an incidental mention of trying to sell his house in Massachusetts, in a New York Times real estate section article, and through his beer reviews (the other is a partner in engineering firm), and one has had some troubles coping with homosexuality and its implications and is now a counselor trying to help people stop being gay (heavy implications all around). I remember as one of our best times as doing a reading of Friedrich Durrenmatt's The Meteor together (in translation, we weren't quite that impressive at 13), for no particular reason other than I happened to have a copy with me (I also read Gregory Benford's "In Alien Flesh" that morning while waiting for the others to wake up, on that sleepover in August, 1978, since the story was in the September issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and surely that put an odd spin on the day already). Whereas my next set of friendly acquaintances from those years are utterly invisible on the web. It's an odd old this new world.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Friday "Forgotten" Books: Lee Hoffman: Trouble Valley (Ballantine, 1976)

I don't know about you, but sometimes I read authors in a jag. I read most of Kurt Vonnegut's then-available novels in a string over a couple of months in the latter 1980s, having read only The Sirens of Titan (his best sf novel), Galapagos, and Cat's Cradle and the essay and short story collections beforehand, and it was time to dig in. That's how I know Bluebeard is the best of his contemporary mimetic novels, although Rosewater and the near-past historical Mother Night give it a run. I read about half of Theodore Sturgeon's collections, before the "Sturgeon Project" complete short-fiction reprints began, in the same way, having read most of the rest of Sturgeon's work sporadically over the previous two decades...and Sturgeon and Vonnegut share more than the mutual paternity of Kilgore Trout...a deep and knowing and rarely naive humanism runs through their work. As it does through the work of Ms. Lee Hoffman, RIP in 2007 and not hardly forgotten herself in several circles, but her books, if Amazon can be trusted, are almost all out of print...there's a pricey large-print edition of WILD RIDERS out, and another title coming soon in a LP edition, and her collection of essays In and Out of Quandry might still be available directly from NESFA Press, some examples of her personal journalism from her groundbreaking 1950s fanzine and elsewhere. But I read the simple majority of her 17 western novels in a jag in 1994, having read her impressive sf short story "Soundless Evening" in Again, Dangerous Visions as a kid, and having known she'd written some other impressive fantastic fiction, but was perhaps best known literarily for her western fiction...her fourth novel to be published, and first hardcover, The Valdez Horses (Doubleday, 1967), had won the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America, and had been (apparently acceptably if unexceptionally) filmed a decade later as a project for Charles Bronson and Jill Ireland. Haven't seen the film, but read the fact, take on all her novels, and note how she starts out as good as anyone could want (she had already been a veteran not only of sf fan publishing, but an assistant editor at her ex Larry Shaw's magazines, and a notable zinester in the folk-music scene), in lighter or darker modes from book to book, but by her mid-1970s novels, of which Trouble Valley is one, she had achieved a practiced grace and a lean manner of slipping in the compassionate detail that helped spoil me for lesser western fiction...the protagonist of this one is not only doing his damnedest to end the conflict with his aggressive neighbors, but to do it as amicably as possible, and Hoffman delivers more tension and less melodrama, more detail to character and realistic description of human interaction than almost anyone else working in the field...this book (and its mates) read like less eccentrically-detailed Joe Lansdale westerns, or Bill Pronzini's without the slightly formal stiffness that can creep into his historical work when he lets it. Ed Gorman and Loren Estleman are in her league, too, which gives you some idea...and at least two much better-selling, largely in-print western writers couldn't come close to what she could do. But that shouldn't surprise anyone.

The Lee Hoffman Site:

As always, thanks to Patti Abbott for sustaining the Friday Books lists. Buy Ed Gorman (and MH Greenberg)'s new volume of best of the year crime fiction to get a sense of what she can do.

(Possibly "forgotten" music audited while writing this one: the George Russell Smalltet: Jazz Workshop [1956, RCA]...the album where Bill Evans learned about modal improvising from Russell, so he eventually could teach it to the Miles Davis group, and they did Kind of Blue as a result. Jazz Workshop's better.)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

in response to EW's "Skin Games",,20199443,00.html

Well, Entertainment Weekly apparently polled somebody about the most gratuitous nudity on television, Not that there's anything wrong with it, as nearly all their respondents were quick to point out. Aside from being at least as heavily weighted toward beefcake as cheesecake (good in terms of fairness, if somewhat lacking in visceral appeal for me), it did put me in mind of

The most integral (and obviously intentional) nudity (mostly if not entirely female) that comes to mind from US broadcast television (because cable's too easy) viewing over the years:

1. CBS Reports episode "The Japanese" (1969). Edwin O. Reischauer hosted a Peabody Award-winning hour on CBS giving us a look at Japan, including a brief tour of the Tokyo red light district, and one illuminated sign sign displayed a woman utterly nude, although her hands covered only her pubic area, in accordance with Japanese obscenity law of the time (everything goes except clear view of pubic hair or genitals). Rather startling on broadcast at that time, and I'm sure someone in the Nixon White House hoped to make some hay with it. But I suppose it was taken as a sort of National Geographic-style bit of anthropology.

2. PBS Hollywood Theater episode "Steambath" (1973). Everyone remembers Bruce Jay Friedman's play, even if they only remember it for Valerie Perrine.

2a. National Geographic episode "The Incredible Machine" (1975). The first episode of National Geographic to appear on PBS (after stints on all three of the other national networks) was the highest-rated broadcast on PBS for some time, was released cinematically and nominated for an Oscar, and, most startlingly to me at the time, begins with a nude artists' model on display before getting around to its more revolutionary inside the body photography. Perhaps it's worth noting that with the exception of Perrine, nearly all the women cited here up till the mid-'80s are not Caucasian (the model is of East Asian ancestry) or are hapa in "City Lovers" (or "Coloured" as South Africa used to be careful to note). And the photography all but pioneered in this documentary would later be refined for another, later source of occasional, if utterly unsexy (except to a very specialized audience), US network nudity, CSI (even as late a several years ago, unclothed cadavers were surviving in syndicated repeats of the early episodes...I suspect this is not the case any longer).

3. Roots (1976). ABC and Wolper Productions must've decided that slaves fell under Nat Geo anthropology aegis, as well, given a few scenes in this miniseries.

4. Nadine Gordimer Stories episode "City Lovers" (1982). A syndicated package to US public broadcasting stations, this was only the most sexually-explicit of the episodes I saw repeated throughout the 1980s...and a devastating one, as one could correctly infer about the abuses of power that were part and parcel of South African apartheid (and sadly not that insane system alone).

5. Great Performances episode "The Ebony Tower" (1984). John Fowles's story is given ham-handed treatment here (and might only deserve such), with Laurence Olivier not quite at his The Betsy nadir, but not actually good, either...but the display of Toyah Willcox and particularly of Greta Scacchi is, shall we write, memorable. I note belatedly that John Mortimer directed this imported telefilm...I suspect the story demands a rather obvious treatment, but I haven't read it yet. (I suppose some mention of such earlier imports as the Eastern Educational Network's syndication to public stations starting in 1975 of Monty Python's Flying Circus, with Carol Cleveland's occasional relevant scenes and Terry Gilliam's intentionally campy animations [and, to be evenhanded, the tendency of the two Terrys particularly to shed clothing], and of the various bits of James Burke's Connections [imported by PBS in 1980] that pertain here.)

6. Masterpiece Theatre episodes "The Fortunes and Misfortunes of Moll Flanders" (1996). Not to be confused with the Moll Flanders theatrical film released the same year, this is the miniseries, imported like much of PBS's programming from the UK, featuring Alex Kingston in the title role, not long before her turn on ER. Perhaps the most sexually explicit of the Masterpiece Theatres, apparently uncut from its UK run, and precisely the sort of thing that PBS is terrified of displaying today, with a predatory FCC still in power (one of the smaller crimes of the current Bush Admin).

Such incidental bits as the actually gratuitous display of a young woman's bare breasts on Chicago Hope (CBS, 1996) or even the emergence of from the bathtub of a young adolescent girl in an episode of PBS's anthology series Visions (which was telecast when I was about the actress's age, and it was much appreciated by me at the time, sometime in 1978) were comparitively fleeting or singular. And, of course, there was NYPD Blue; despite the comments of one of my less charitable colleagues at TV Guide, Charlotte Ross, subject of the last and only FCC-pursued example of nudity on that series, looked fine.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday "Forgotten" Books: Jorge Luis Borges: THE ALEPH, AND OTHER STORIES 1933-1969 (as translated by Borges and NT DiGiovanni)

Now if there's any writer who isn't particularly forgotten, at least among Latin American writers among Anglophone readers, Jorge Luis Borges is perhaps more unforgotten than any other except Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the wonderful set of translations of his work that Borges engaged in with Norman Thomas DiGiovanni, published by E. P. Dutton in the US in the late '60s and throughout the 1970s, have been out of print at least since shortly after Borges's death. It seems DiGiovanni had a contract that was Very favorable to him in terms of royalties, and Borges's heirs were not willing to play largely inferior translations have been issued since, such as the Collected Fictions and Collected Nonfiction volumes, along with the mixed bag of translations, such as Labyrinths and Dreamtigers, which had been translated by others and issued before Borges and NTDG began their project.

The Aleph, and Other Stories 1933-1969 has the unfair advantage of being a survey of some of Borges's most important fiction, when compared to such other excellent collections as The Book of Sand or Doctor Brodie's Report (the stories in the last in collaboration with Adolfo Bioy-Casares). The story that made JLB's reputation, "Streetcorner Man" (or "El hombre de las esquinas rosadas"--the pinkness of the streetcorners being indicative of their unsavory neighborhood) is included in a new translation, and Borges is as unimpressed with this early effort as such writers as Robert Bloch or Isaac Asimov were with their own first Big Splashes. But his brilliance was already being hinted at, at least, and the Argentine westerns and crime fiction, the earthily grounded and even autobiographical fantasies (Borges was justly proud of the title story, beyond its parallels with Dante), and the long, fine autobiographical essay make this easily the most ncessary single volume of Borges's work in translation among those I've read, even considering the larger number of his more famous stories in Labyrinths and the atrocious Fictions volume.

We can only hope that these translations will eventually be made widely available again.

Here's the link to the Patti Abbott listings of title and links.

And her advice (and the list as it was a couple of hours ago):

And hey, go look at the complete reviews. These people have a lot of interesting stuff to say.

David Terrenoire, Cruddy, Lynda Barry
Sarah Weinman, The Late Man, James Preston Girard
Tom Piccirilli, The Hunter, Richard Stark (Donald Westlake)
Travis Erwin, The Me I Used to Be, Jennifer Archer
Bookwitch, Sapper, Herman Cyril McNeile
James Reasoner, The Siamese Twin Mystery, Ellery Queen
Megan Powell, Cuckoo's Egg, C.J. Cherryh
Bill Crider, The Night Remembers, Ed Gorman
Declan Burke, Wild at Heart, Barry Gifford
Kirsty, Other Stories and Other Stories, Ali Smith
Jeff Shelby, The Standoff, Chuck Hogan
Shauna Sturge, Crossfire, Jeanette Windle
Steve Allan, Splinters of the Mind's Eye, Alan Dean Foster
Ed Gorman, The Kidnappers, Robert Bloch and 361 by Donald Westlake
Baglady, The Crystal Cave, Mary Stewart
Kevin Burton Smith, The January Corpse by Neil Albert

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Hapa time

Hapa is the Hawaiian word for half, and it's come into use to describe someone who springs from a union that is of a parent of one ethnicity and the other in "hapa-haole," "half-stranger" literally and "half-Caucasian" in practice, first used to describe the kids from the earliest most common sort of union between Hawaiians and visitors to their archipelago. My (hapa) friend Keiko (of multi-gen German-American and first-gen Japanese-American ancestry) and I were bemoaning the premature cancellation of the fine NBC science-fantasy series Journeyman, which co-starred hapa actress Moon Bloodgood (who had previously co-starred in the similarly good, similarly strangled time-travel fantasy series Daybreak on ABC the summer before). "It was so nice to see a[n Asian-Caucasian] hapa actress on every week," Keiko mentioned...which immediately made me realize that we have a plethora of hapa actresses on television these days, even more when we count those not quite acting, such as Attack of the Show co-host Olivia Munn or NBC news anchor/reporter Ann Curry, vastly more regularly seen on US tv, at least, than we see of women or men of "purely" Asian ancestry...and a few more of hapa African/Caucasian descent, such as Rashida Jones (of The Office). I came up with a list of about twenty names, and it just grew and grew, even if a few, such as Lexa Doig (late of Andromeda), aren't currently regulars on a show in production...a few who weren't at that time, such as Lindsay Price (now on Lipstick Jungle) have gotten a new regular gig (meanwhile, one of the most prominent "purely" Asian-American actresses on US tv lost her similar gig, Lucy Liu on Cashmere Mafia).

France Nuyen, the most prominently-featured hapa actress on 1960s US television (and the 1960s were for some reason the most friendly decade for Asian-Americans on television, at very least till the current one) clearly has blazed a trail. I suspect the 1960s saw a Lot more Asian-Americans in series than the 1970s and 1980s, with the often weak exceptions of M*A*S*H and Hawaii Five-0 and the almost purely Cauc Magnum, PI, because they could be seen as both wildly exotic and remarkable in their American-ness, when someone needed to make a point about how we were all Americans together...and Asian-Am actors could be used to make African-American actors, most obviously Bill Cosby in the first season of I Spy, that much more all-American by contrast.

But it is we might be seeing a hapa US President soon, and almost certainly a hapa nominee from the Democratic Party, a little more hapa consciousness might spread around.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Friday "forgotten" book: Gary Jennings's THE LIVELY LIVES OF CRISPIN MOBEY

Here's the Locus Index's accounting of this book, easily the most obscure title by bestselling writer Gary Jennings after he began publishing his string of huge successes, including Aztec and Spangle:

The Lively Lives of Crispin Mobey (as by) Gabriel Quyth (Macmillan Atheneum 0-689-12023-0, Oct ’88 [Feb ’89], $18.95, 243pp, hc) [Crispin Mobey]; Humorous fantasy fix-up novel of nine stories featuring missionary Crispin Mobey. Quyth is a pseudonym for Gary Jennings. Published in 1988 but not seen until 1989.

1 · Sooner or Later or Never Never [as by Gary Jennings] · nv F&SF May ’72
39 · Kingdom Come [as by Gary Jennings] · nv F&SF Jan ’78
66 · Lhude Sing Cuccu! [as by Gary Jennings] · nv F&SF Sep ’77
93 · Let Us Prey [as by Gary Jennings] · nv F&SF Jun ’78
117 · Be Jubilant My Feet! [as by Gary Jennings] · ss F&SF Dec ’78
142 · Ignis Fatuus [as by Gary Jennings] · ss F&SF Sep ’79
169 · P.U. · ss
193 · Homo Sap [as by Gary Jennings] · nv F&SF Mar ’79
217 · Not with a Bang But a Bleep [as by Gary Jennings] · nv F&SF Jun ’77

Now, I have to admit I've never held a copy of this book, so I believe I've never been able to read the story "P.U." (the comedy of humors rules OK in these memorable bit has the Reverend discover, much to his immediate chagrin, The Kindergarten Guide to Gonorrhea, the first page of which is inevitably "See Dick run"). You will not be surprised to learn that old P.U. is our bumptious missionary protagonist's alma mater, as I remember it...for I read all the Mobey stories I could find in back issues and as they were published in '78 and later in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Jennings, who like Richard McKenna, Allan Eckert and Michael Shaara before him was a no-two-ways about it fantasy and sf writer before Hitting Big with historical fiction, the next field over in one direction, also published such wonderful, terrifying fiction as "How We Pass the Time in Hell" in F&SF (November 1971, for that one) and elsewhere (well, "How..." certainly made an impression on young me, with its ultraviolet humor and bleak invention).

Mobey, of the SoPrim or Southern Primitive Baptist Church, can't help but stumble upon outre or utterly supernatural phenomena in his attempt to somewhat hamhandedly spread the good word, misunderstanding as much of what's going on around him as he possibly can most of the time. Jennings apparently didn't think his bestseller audience was quite ready for the caustic portrayal of religion and so much else in these stories, so he published the book under that odd pseudonym, and Atheneum apparently did little to draw much attention to the book, even with a coy Guess-Who campaign.

I certainly would've bought a copy back when. And, if one can be had reasonably, might yet soon.

The other Friday Forgotten Books are findable at Patti Abbott's blog, here.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Overlooked films--one impressive and could've been even better, one joyously bad: PRIME CUT and THE EXPLOSIVE GENERATION

Steve Allan (not the late television guy) inspired Patti Abbott to post about Do the Right Thing by posting about Evolution, but this meme has yet to take flight (or am I confusing memes with nenes, a sort of goose...). A good enough excuse for me to cite two films, to help thicken the stew...

Prime Cut is a film that could've been champeen, nevermind contender. Directed by Michael Ritchie as his second feature, after the overrated but beautiful Downhill Racer and just before the brilliant The Candidate and a string of films nearly as good (The Bad News Bears brought home the groceries), and written by the even more uneven Robert Dillon, Prime Cut features a great cast (Gregory Walcott got to show what he could do when working with the likes of Lee Marvin, Gene Hackman, and the debuting Sissy Spacek) and a story that turns Deliverance inside out...instead of suburbanites venturing into the evils of the rural/natural, mobsters out of the big city, Chicago in this case, have go down to the outskirts/suburbs of Kansas City to deal with a megalomaniacal sort who's setting up his own empire (did you guess that was Hackman's character? Gold star.). The problem, as far as this film goes, isn't so much what's bizarre and semi-mythic about it, but how haphazard it is...its releasing company, National General, was collapsing as it was being made, and I suspect the hastily-edited, throw in all the footage you shot feel of the film at various points was the result of a desperate desire by NG and/or its creditors to get some sort of money out of the project before the offices were shuttered. A sequence that involves the interaction of the Chicago mobsters' limo and a thresher/bailer just goes on and's somewhat hypnotic, but clearly this is not how the finished work was going to be. A rather awkward sequence where Lee Marvin's character escorts the nearly nude Sissy Spacek into a restaurant stretches and still manages to be less preciously pseudo-rebellious than a similar sequence in Flashdance, but as presented in this less than prime cut, only slightly less.

As a whole film, it's still a hell of a thing to see. You just wish Ritchie had been able to finish it. (I'm pretty sure I saw this first as a kid on something like the CBS Late Movie, wherein the fairly frequent nudity would've been cut, and perhaps even more footage spliced in...or perhaps the tv edit might actually resemble what was hoped for originally, but I somehow doubt that.).

This film is Not office-friendly.

The terrible, hilarious film is The Explosive Generation. I have to thank Bill Crider for digging out a compound trailer for this and another film...I saw TEG for the first time on late night television as a teen in Hawaii, and if you don't think William Shatner as an idealistic youngish sex-ed teacher, doing his best to Relate to the kids in the kind of film that Mort Sahl characterized as always having a scene where at a meeting of parents one arises to announce, "I just want to say that I'm going to call my kids now, and ask for their forgiveness!"...if you don't think that sounds like bad fun on a grand scale, I have to tell you to think again. In that it's mildly exploitive while theoretically on the kids' side was a stroke of minor genius, and I'm surprised the film didn't do any better than it did...perhaps the similarly goofy TheBlackboard Jungle did so well in comparison because it was earlier by several years, but no fresher, and hostile to the kids, who got to be Kool Rebels, just like that Flashdance welder-stripper.

Previously here: the dual trailer that Bill has up, also advertising a British film called That Kind of Girl, which was classed up for the US (no doubt drive-in) market as Teen Age Tramp: (and has since been taken down by YouTube, so here's this):

And here's an abridged, I believe, certainly battered, copy of the trailer for Explosive on its own:

And a long clip, which The Onion's AV Club wants you to note features a boom mike that no one thought worthy of reframing out of the final edit...

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Most annoying television theme songs that come to mind:

In the order they occur to me:

1. Everyday A syndicated morning chat show, as I remember, which was utterly forgettable, and had the theme song that should've indicated that--endless repeating of the word "Everyday" in three-note ascending and descending series. Took the composer perhaps five minutes...and they asked the audience to sing along with it at show's close.

2. What's Happening!! Boiing!!! (the second-worst sitcom, at least of any durability, in the US in the 1970s, which probably doesn't help my assessment, any more than does the two, not one nor three exclamation points...but the theme is just offensive.)

3. Three's Company Theme to the worst durable sitcom of the 1970s in the US, it's a fairly innocuous tune, except that it's cloying and a misleading come-on for the horrors to follow.

4. Charles in Charge (original theme) Creepy lyrics ("I want Charles in charge of me!") set to a bad ripoff of the Bangles' "Dover Beach."

5. WKRP in Cincinnati (second theme) Also just a bit cloying, but would also slip by as innocuous if it hadn't supplanted the fine, goofy, incoprehensible original theme, which was preserved as the closing theme.

Remarkable how few truly awful themes we have these days. Perhaps all the bad composers are working, with the good ones, on videogames.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


You might just need the June, 2008, issue of's their memorial issue for Ed Hoch, and includes reminisces from a number of writers and editors along with one of the last stories, though not the last, in Hoch's unbroken string of contributions to every issue since 1973 (Hoch had contributed regularly going back into the '60s, after first selling to Robert Lowndes's magazines in the late '50s). I met him at the 2001 World Crime Fiction Convention, the BoucherCon, in the Virginia DC suburbs only weeks after 9/11, and he was a complete gentleman, as everyone else's testimony seems to agree (you don't get too many criticisms under these circumstances, but the worst I've ever heard about him was that he tended to include one of his own stories in the volumes of the series of the Year's Best CF stories he edited for a couple of decades...may this be the worst anyone can say about any of us).

Hoch's story in the issue is made slightly unbelievable by featuring an insurance detective who chooses not, at this late date, to have a cell phone of his own, though it's a decent example of what Hoch did; Peter Lovesey likewise contributes a typical, not the best, example of his usual work, unbelievable but amusing enough in its tale of a Regular Bloke sucked into impersonating a thug, who manages to do so Very Well indeed; things look up with a typically unmelodramatic Clark Howard and an amusing conceit involving a Nero Wolfe wannabe (in a world where there already is a Nero Wolfe in the copious flesh) by Loren D. Estleman. That's as far as I've gotten with the fiction, so far, but as usual Bill Crider and Jon Breen's columns are helpful, deft, and could be longer.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Friday "Forgotten" Book: Avram Davidson: THE ENQUIRIES OF DOCTOR ESZTERHAZY

A collection of historical fantasies that might just barely brush up against sf fleetingly...

The Enquiries of Doctor Eszterhazy might just be the most brilliant book the most brilliant Avram Davidson saw published...and, of course, it was published as a paperback original (Warner Books, 1975) with little support and in a clumsy package, egregiously mislabeled "science fiction" (although as historical fantasies, the linked stories within touch on sf from time to time). Currently in print only in the expanded small press edition The Adventures of Doctor Eszterhazy, the earlier edition is in several ways preferable...most importantly because the later stories Davidson wrote involving the extremely learned Doctor were slighter and a bit less inventive on balance, still good but not as lapidary and achingly Right as the earlier set. Also, the typesetting leaves a bit to be desired in the newer book, which at least is a well-built hardcover. But to know Eszterhazy is to want to have all the stories, so one must eventually have the Adventures; it's simply a pity that circumstances so rarely rewarded Davidson well enough for him to consistently do the work of which he was capable.

Eszterhazy is a sort of Holmesian figure, only both more accomplished and yet also more believable; his efforts on behalf of the small Mitteleuropean nation in which he resides usually at very least brush him up against the supernatural. These stories, some of the best work ever published in those great fiction magazines Whispers, Fantastic and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, display the ready wit, the easily-incorporated erudition, the passionate love of life and play, and the weary disappointment in the worst in humanity that Davidson's other best work displays, only rarely as concentratedly as in these accounted investigations. If you let them, these stories will educate you, amuse you, surprise you, break your heart occasionally, take your breath away at least as often.

I remember well sitting in the lobby of Discovery Bay, a condo tower in Waikiki, having both just moved in 1979 to Hawaii and discovered affordable back issues of Fantastic and others at a secondhand store called Froggies, reading "The Church of Saint Satan and Pandaemons," in an anniversary issue of Fantastic. The chair wasn't overwhelmingly comfortable, and I would jump a bit from time to time when someone would come in through the front door or knock to beg entrance past the expensive lock; I was down in the lobby to get some peace and quiet while my parents and brother watched television in the one-bedroom apartment we survived throughout that summer, with my then 7yo brother and I sharing the foldout couch bed in the living room. Didn't matter...the allusive, often hilarious, deeply strange narrative of Davidson's was easily the highlight of the issue. His non-Eszterhazy "Hark! Did I Hear the Squeal of an Angry Thoat?" in another, later Fantastic in my stash was nearly as good, even more improvisational and seemingly haphazard--the character of John Carter appears suddenly at the end, as one might guess from the Burroughsian title, but until that time it has been a nostalgic romp through mid-20th century New York City--but one feels the extra jolt with the Esterhazy stories of an author gently parodying as well as sympathetically representing himself with his protagonist.

They are necessary reading, and have only appeared in collected form in two rather obscure editions.

(This is another response to a Patti Abbott challenge, to cite a book in serious danger of being forgotten. See links to other answers to the call here, where Patti is also proudly hailing her daughter Megan Abbott's win of an Edgar Award for her novel Queenpin, and well she might!)

Avram Davidson was also an Edgar Award-winner, in fact the first person to have won both the Edgar and Hugo awards, and perhaps the first to have won both of those and the Howard (though his occasional collaborator Harlan Ellison might've beat him to that punch...I first became aware of Davidson through the Ellison in collaboration collection Partners in Wonder). Davidson's most fully-realized novel is also one with a modest publication history, Masters of the Maze; since his death, his ex-wife but lifelong friend and occasional collaborator Grania Davis, a talented writer in her own right, has made an effort to get nearly all of Davidson's work back into print, with impressive collections of his crime fiction and his tales of contemporary Jewish-American life as well as his fantasies, horrors and sf...most recently a collection of his similarly brilliant tales of an expatriate American finding odd things indeed in an alternate Guyana, Limekiller!.

And I've just discovered that the Eszterhazy story "The Odd Old Bird" was collected in neither, I have yet another grail...

***and another Late Bulletin! Hot on the heels of Megan Abbott's 1 May win of the Best Paperback Original Novel Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, Patti Abbott on 2 May herself picks up the vignette Derringer Award from the Short Mystery Fiction's a good week to be a writing Abbott, and, of course, since awards are only as good as the recipients they're given to, both awards have been elevated as's the winning story, "My Hero."

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

two great losses for jazz

IAJE, the International Association of Jazz Educators, is shutting down. This organization has been a great cheerleader for jazz education, and their annual conventions, to judge by the example of the 1991 DC fest I attended, were heady sessions of love of music and remarkable opportunities to meet with musicians...I met Joe Morello and Max Roach, as well as members of the Mingus Dynasty, on that occasion. Spontaneous jam sessions in the hallways, or wherever a piano might be sitting, never idle for long.
Here's the JazzTimes account.

And last week we lost Jimmy Giuffre...he'd been ailing for a while, but he'd been an innovator, an educator, and a maximum talent. Among his most famous performances were those included in the theatrical documentary Jazz on a Summer's Day...

Here's another reading of that, by the Trio:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

improbable "service"-esque post

Or, how this blog will never be mistaken for Esquire's (I enjoyed the self-critical piece they ran in the magazine some months back, in which the temporary ombudsman of sorts asked just how many times the magazine felt it could re-run a piece about how to tie a necktie).

But as one who sometimes sports a Jah Wobble/Don Johnson stubble, mostly because like the ex-Public Image Ltd. member I dislike both shaving and beards, I have recently discovered that if one needs to shave a few days' growth, that standard "facial" disposible razors of the sort common today work less well for the gross mowing than do the similar women's leg razors do...with the latter's shallower angles, less perpendicularity (now that word should get this low-intesity blog some engine hits).

(OK...who remembers Jah Wobble?)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Best Radio Now

So, the best things I get to hear on radio regularly these days include Harry Shearer's LE SHOW (a melange of Shearer's many-voices sketches, commentary on political and social events, readings from trade publications and the foreign press, and musical selections, a few of the last either his own parodic compositions or his wife's performances of pop jazz...she's quite a good singer), the newly Peabody Award-winning WAIT, WAIT, DON'T TELL ME (a comedic news quiz featuring a repertory company of panelists...Roy Blount and Paula Poundstone often among the best), WHAD'YA KNOW? (another comedy quiz show, with a lot of audience participation and a fine jazz combo), and THE SOUND OF YOUNG AMERICA (less gratingly precious and certainly more prone to genuine wit than most public radio programs moving in that direction). These are audible online as well as on air in the Philadelphia area...among those resources only available on the web for a Philadelphian include the Pacifica Radio show COVER TO COVER: BOOKWAVES conducted by Richard Wolinsky occasionally in tandem with that gentleman of letters Richard Lupoff, and the raw interviews that were boiled down for Don Swaim's CBS Radio BOOK BEAT in the 1980s and early 1990s...a remarkable array of writers of most sorts active in those years.

Please feel free to let me know of particularly the odd or rare items I might've been overlooking.

Monday, February 25, 2008

For TV GUIDE: QUARTERLIFE: Re-Drawn and Un-Quartered

As you've probably read by now, quarterlife didn't begin as the web series it's been since last November, as well as a social networking site of some ambition beyond the show itself. As the potential fifth series producers Ed Zwick and Marhall Herskovitz would bring to ABC, after thirtysomething, My So-Called Life, Relativity, and Once and Again, ABC passed, and the producers decided their concept of a series exploring young adults' lives, just after college but before they've actually settled into full-fledged careers and other aspects of "grown-up" existence, would lend itself handsomely to a webisode format, five to nine minute segments rather than 42 or so before the commercial breaks are added. And since Zwick and Herskovitz love to feature characters addressing the audience directly, in voiceover or, as in the brilliant Once and Again, in segments in which the characters' inner monologue is represented by their speaking (or staring silently!) directly into the camera (in black and white, on a limbo set), to add the aspect of video blogging into the drama would just make that sort of device even more organic.

NBC apparently snapped up the series before the strike (either as a bulwark against the looming strike or simply as a relatively safe midseason replacement, since it was in production anyway), but with the proviso that it will go on as a web series even if it doesn't go forward on NBC as an hourlong show. (Which also opens the possibility that another network might consider it...why do the letters "CW" seem to form on the distant horizon?)

As a web series so far, it has had both strengths and weaknesses. Being doled out, even twice a week, in such small chunks means that some transitional bits will have to be left behind in the web edits, and some things might have to be telescoped that might have a little more room to breathe in the longer format. The focus on twenty-somethings, which this series shares with the impressive, too-often overlooked Relativity, is a good idea (driven in part by the working life the producers found themselves in), but unlike the series since My So-Called Life, the greater texture that intergenerational interaction brings to the drama has mostly been unexplored (till the most recent webisodes, wherein Bitsie Tilloch's Dylan tries to cope with her mother and their difficult relation). For 25-year-olds, or thereabouts, the characters often seem remarkably adolescent; and, as some of the commenters on the quarterlife site itself tend to note, the characters often seem to drop out of sight for extended periods (a function, probably, of the tight focus the webisode length imposes).

But the series is well-acted, well-shot, and interesting, and I look forward to seeing how the longform version of the series might differ from what we've seen so far.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Best Nights of the US...over the last three, four decades...that I manage to remember...

This one's kind of another command performance, or suggested performance, from a line in Bill Crider's blog about how impressively, memorably good the 1972-73 CBS Saturday night lineup of programming (All in the Family, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, The Carol Burnett Show) was. And it was, particularly if you, like me, were just eight when it was introduced. I'd mentioned how it was surpassed slightly for me by the local lineup in the Hartford CT/Springfield MA market in 1975, by which time CBS had already moved the first two half hours away from "family hour" and into slots on other nights, but the three remaining CBS shows gave way to the local PBS's run of Monty Python's Flying Circus in its first full run at 11pm, and that neatly fed into the first season of NBC's Saturday Night (Live) (three weeks a month, and the almost-as-good sly newsmagazine Weekend on the fourth week). The first hour on CBS by 1975 was given over to mostly forgettable but supposedly family-friendly sitcoms.

For me, there wouldn't be another full night of television nearly as satisfying till another local arrangement, the DC area's Friday nights in 1995-1996, which saw the local UPN station run the syndicated Babylon-5 at 8pm, The X-Files was offered on Fox at 9pm, and then Homicide: Life on the Street at 10pm on NBC. Though perhaps there was another contender for me on Friday nights in the southern New Hampshire/Boston market in 1978-79, which saw the local PBS stations offer Sneak Previews, The International Animation Festival (hosted by Jane Marsh), a rather good short film showcase hour whose title slips my mind (Short Subjects or something relatively generic like that, it was a national package), and a package of Janus Film Collection international classics that was tagged PBS Theater, at least as it appeared on WENH in Durham--I was first able to see The 400 Blows, Forbidden Games, Rashomon, and other impressive chestnuts thus.

Looking back at the national network schedules, it is notable how often one would have some difficulty finding consistently-good fare on any given night (and not infrequently have good shows pitched against each other, of course), but that doesn't take into account just how much more interesting and often impressive cable and syndicated fare was available, particularly around 2000-2002, which is in most ways the best two seasons US television has seen, and the last two, even with strike, haven't been too shabby, either (even given the inevitable tripe, around the millennium even much of the bubblegum was of a quality that would've shone like diamonds during most of the latter 1970s and
The Huntress
early 1980s seasons...contrast the Annette O'Toole vehicle The Huntress or even the Xena knockoff Witchblade with the witless crap that was The Dukes of Hazzard or The Fall Guy or Charlie's Angels...Lou Grant, WKRP in Cincinatti, The Rockford Files, The Paper Chase, SCTV, and eventually Hill Street Blues and Cagney and Lacey could've used the company among the more intelligent shows kicking around in those years). But while there have always been at least some good series to watch...those who claim there's nothing get no sympathy from me, it's a bit like saying there's nothing good on radio or nothing good to read anymore...finding a single night where the Newsradio or Scrubs bright spots haven't been interspersed with Veronica's Closet dreariness or at best Wings competence has been very much a rare and temporary thing. Tuesday nights at 8pm ET were particularly ridiculous a few years back, wherein at least four or five regularly scheduled series I enjoyed, including PBS's Nova and the WB's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, were simulcast (I believe Newsradio was part of that stack, though beginning at 8:30pm on NBC, and the only interesting series on the then new Pax network, Mysterious Ways), while there were long stretches throughout the week wherein any of those series would've been quite welcome.

And then there're Sunday nights...where pay cable and often also the "basic" cable stations come out to play, and if there's something interesting on the broadcast nets as well...well, one can be glad that the cable stations almost always repeat everything so often...and the broadcast networks are doing the same with their Saturdays, particularly.

The closest to a fully satisfying night we've had in the last season has been Mondays on NBC, where the fine Chuck, the foundering but still watchable Heroes, and the brilliant and cancelled Journeyman were offered in the first months of the short season...

But, of course, I have to give a nod to Saturday afternoons in the Boston area in the early 1970s, when viewers of Channel 56 got to see repeats of The Outer Limits followed by the Creature Double Feature...a solid five-six hours of outre photoplay, ranging from utter cheese to quite good indeed. Warped my mind.

China Beach (see comments)