Thursday, January 1, 2009

Friday's "Forgotten" Books for 2 January: THE DARK SIDE, edited by Damon Knight (Doubleday, 1965)

How to label a horror anthology as sf:

Not too long ago, I encouraged Patti Abbott nee Nase (of pattinase --the instigation point for these Forgotten Books entries) to pick up one of the many cheap copies of Terry Carr and Martin Harry Greenberg's A Treasury of Modern Fantasy, a 1981 anthology of stories from the fantasy-fiction magazines. (I'll note that I had given away my copy a quarter-century ago to a very nice woman named Deanna Chang, whom whenever I ran into her on random occasions after our high school graduation I had a book in hand and felt generous...she also got a copy of Judith Merril's annual SF 12 that way, and I hope she enjoyed them). I have since picked up a cheap copy likewise, and recently reread the introduction of that fine if not superb anthology, wherein the editors, the late Mr. Carr and the [then] still very active [since, alas, late] Prof. Greenberg congratulate themselves for producing the first fantasy-fiction anthology to draw entirely from the fantasy fiction magazines...and attempt at being comprehensive while doing so. (It wasn't, exactly, the first, but it was a pretty impressive example...if less comprehensive than it could've been.)

While there had been best-ofs of various magazines at that time--quite a number of nondefinitive collections from Weird Tales, at least three from Unknown, at least one from 
Fantasticone each surveying Beyond and Fantastic Universe, and a long and up till then fairly regular series from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, there hadn't been (arguably) a volume which concentrated on fantasy, rather than horror or more eclectic assemblies, through the decades of the fantasy magazines.

But there had been predecessors for which one can make the case that they were meant to do something very similar, and this book, the first fantasy anthology Damon Knight edited (although his magazine Worlds Beyond in 1950 had stressed fantasy in its mix of fantastic fiction), is certainly one of them. Fortunately or unfortunately, it was published by Doubleday in 1965 in its Doubleday Science Fiction line, which meant it was plastered with indicators that it was really an sf book, which it largely is not, and given a perfunctory cover and a claim on its jacket flap copy to contain "The October Game" by Ray Bradbury, rather than, as it does, RB's "The Black Ferris" (one of two stories it shares with the Carr/Greenberg antho from a decade and a half later).

Knight himself, perhaps unsure that the sf audience that the book's being sold to won't simply snort or reflexively reject any collection of fantasy stories (this being the marketing dilemma for fantasy so labeled as Tolkien was only beginning to sell in the millions), at various points in the headnotes to each story the reader is reassured that these stories aren't Just fantasy, or, more foolishly, that they are Just fantasy and can be enjoyed as such, as if any but the most blockheaded readers (of which there were, and are, more than a few in the sf audience) couldn't figure that out for themselves.

But, then, Knight seems to want to readers to know from the general introduction on in that his book is devoted to fantasy that follows the (uncredited) H.G. Wells rule for fantastic fiction, that there be only one miracle per story, and all must be rationally extrapolated from that anomaly. This was also the Party Line at Unknown (later Unknown Worlds), the fantasy magazine edited by the hugely influential science fiction editor John W. Campbell, Jr (whom it is widely suggested preferred editing Unknown during its four year run, and who ran some Unknownish fantasy in his Astounding SF, later Analog, after the companion folded).

Having established that, Knight leads off with the Bradbury story, which he slights the rest of Weird Tales's entire inventory in favor of. While "The Black Ferris" is the seed of Something Wicked This Way Comes, it probably isn't even the best story Bradbury published in Weird Tales, and Knight's review of Dark Carnival, the first Bradbury collection, suggests as much (that review can be read in Knight's collection of reviews, In Search of Wonder, a touchstone of SF criticism and a book I reread several times as a youth). It's written in Bradbury's usual slightly too lush style of his early mature work, but in doing so shows the influence of two of his great models, more blatantly so in this story than in many, the more precise Theodore Sturgeon and the progenitor Nathaniel Hawthorne (I can see this being written in part as a response to "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment").

Courtesy of the William Contento online indices, here is the contents of the volume:

The Dark Side ed. Damon Knight (Doubleday, 1965, $4.50, 241pp, hc)
ix · Introduction · Damon Knight · in
1 · The Black Ferris · Ray Bradbury · ss Weird Tales May ’48
13 · They · Robert A. Heinlein · ss Unknown Apr ’41
36 · Mistake Inside · James Blish · nv Startling Stories Mar ’48
65 · Trouble with Water · Horace L. Gold · ss Unknown Mar ’39
96 · c/o Mr. Makepeace · Peter Phillips · ss F&SF Feb ’54
112 · The Golem · Avram Davidson · ss F&SF Mar ’55
121 · The Story of the Late Mr. Elvesham · H. G. Wells · ss The Idler May, 1896
144 · It · Theodore Sturgeon · nv Unknown Aug ’40
179 · Nellthu · Anthony Boucher · vi F&SF Aug ’55
182 · Casey Agonistes · Richard M. McKenna · ss F&SF Sep ’58
198 · Eye for Iniquity · T. L. Sherred · nv Beyond Fantasy Fiction Jul ’53
232 · The Man Who Never Grew Young · Fritz Leiber · ss Night’s Black Agents, Arkham, 1947

So, one can see that there's one story from Weird Tales, three from Unknown, one from the primarily sf magazine Startling Stories, four from Fantasy and Science Fiction, and one each from Beyond Fantasy Fiction and the general-interest magazine The Idler (a solid Wells market), and a story Leiber published in his first collection, Night's Black Agents, which was otherwise drawn from magazines...pretty darn close to a survey of the fantasy magazines, even if limited to a slice largely through the same sort of thing that is often called "urban fantasy" or contemporary fantasy today.

Knight was a not-uncritical but generous fan of Robert Heinlein, and overstates the effect of RAH's "They" on the reader (at least this reader, and I suspect most who were not introduced to the notion of solipsism by this story, as perhaps the young Knight was...a comic-book ripoff of Theodore Sturgeon's earlier "The Ultimate Egoist" was my first experience of same), but it remains an enjoyable story. Which is arguably science fiction, in this ostensibly non-sf anthology.

James Blish's "Mistake Inside" is an improvement, an early display of Blish's lifelong Anglophilia, fascination with history and with the basic questions of religious faith and the necesary grappling with morality and ethics that springs from that questioning...a mostly giddy alternate reality adventure with a deft ending. Not a major story, but certainly working up to one.

H. L. Gold's "Trouble with Water" is the other story shared by the Carr/Greenberg, and is certainly the best story I've read by Gold, though several others come close. Gold, like Alfred Bester, was a man with his finger on the pulse of popular culture of his time to a degree that no current person in the SF world can quite match, as far as I can tell...and in Gold's case, as Algis Budrys suggested at least once, that degree of understanding inhibited his best work (and Knight himself, in a review of a Gold collection that included How I Wrote This notes from Gold, quotes bits of his thought process that would've improved the story if more fully incorporated)...even here, the stereotypical shrewish wife, as cleverly as she's drawn, is not redeemed from cardboard by her eventual change of heart, in large part due to how well Greenberg the protagonist is presented as a full human being, and how the other characters are gracefully sketched in as much as needed. It's a story of a man who incautiously offends a "water gnome," and is in turn cursed by the supernatural creature with being unable to touch water. It's a classic, if not a perfect one, but eminently worth reading.

Peter Phillips is everyone's favorite near-forgotten writer of fantastic fiction in the 1950s, showing up also in such anthologies as Ramsey Campbell's Fine Frights, and "C/O Mr. Makepeace" is another fine if not superb, and elaborate, exercise in linking the notion of poltergeists to older forms of haunting. Knight helpfully (or not) keeps noting how many of the stories he's chosen loop back to either time-travel or solipsist/identity-question themes.

Avram Davidson's funny and widely anthologized borderline sf piece "The Golem" follows, wherein the stereotypical elderly Jewish couple, who are faced with a new sort of Frankenstein's monster, are wonderfully fleshed out, as is the ineffectually menacing automaton. Not Davidson's best story in this mode, but good and probably his most famous.

H. G. Wells's "The Story of the Late Mr. Elvesham" is very well-written, rigorously worked out, and too long, given that even in 1896 this story of an older man possessing the body of a younger one would not be terribly fresh. But, like every other story in this book, it uses its excellent detail tellingly.

Theodore Sturgeon's "It" was probably his masterwork, in the sense of his first fully worked-out story that can't be notably improved in any particular. I've been surprised in recent years to learn that some folks aren't too impressed by this persuasive horror story, which could be called sf only by stretching that term to its breaking point, but which is utterly convincing as horror fiction to its devastating last lines.

Anthony Boucher's "Nellthu" is simply the most memorably funny deal with a devil vignette that I've read, one which has stuck with me through the decades.

Richard McKenna's "Casey Agonistes" was his big splash in fantastic fiction, and Knight wants to warn us that it's arguably not fantasy at all, and it is a borderline case...which makes more sense on the fantasy side of the fence, dealing as it does with the shared hallucination of a ward full of dying men. McKenna made a bigger splash with the bestselling historical novel The Sand Pebbles and died too young shortly after.

T. L. Sherred's "Eye for Iniquity" is a brilliant contemporary fantasy about a man who learns he can duplicate money by simple concentration on the bills as they lie on his coffee table. Sherred was never prolific, but more than nearly anyone else in the magazine field could make one feel the lives of the working people in his stories.

And Fritz Leiber's "The Man Who Never Grew Young" is another (deservedly) much-reprinted story, dealing as the title suggests with an anomalous man who remains the same age as those around him are born from their graves, grow less wrinkled and eventually go from adult to adolescent to infant and are absorbed back into their mothers...a rather more imaginative reworking of the reverse aging concept shared by a widely advertised film based on a certain F. Scott Fitzgerald story. (I see "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is widely posted online, I have to wonder with what copyright provisions being violated.)

So, basically, this is not a definitive anthology, but one which contains not a few brilliant or near-brilliant stories, and no actively bad ones. The second half is better than the first, but I have to wonder if I'm letting nostalgia overtake me in at least a case or two, as Knight does with "They." I doubt it.

A fine thing to seek out in the secondhand market or interlibrary loan, perhaps along with Knight's horror/suspense/sf anthology A Shocking Thing, published a decade later...the two of them together might make an interesting comparison to the Carr/Greenberg, or Robert Silverberg (and Greenberg)'s poll-driven The Fatasy Hall of Fame.

More Contento:

A Shocking Thing ed. Damon Knight (Pocket 0-671-77775-0, Nov ’74, 95¢, 245pp, pb)

1 · Man from the South [“Collector’s Item”] · Roald Dahl · ss Colliers Sep 4 ’48
13 · The Snail-Watcher · Patricia Highsmith · ss Gamma #3 ’64
21 · Bianca’s Hands · Theodore Sturgeon · ss Argosy (UK) May ’47
31 · Poor Little Warrior! · Brian W. Aldiss · ss F&SF Apr ’58
39 · The Hounds · Kate Wilhelm · nv *
65 · The Clone · Theodore L. Thomas · ss Fantastic Dec ’59
79 · The Touch of Nutmeg Makes It · John Collier · ss New Yorker May 3 ’41
89 · Casey Agonistes · Richard M. McKenna · ss F&SF Sep ’58
101 · The Abyss · Leonid Andreyev · ss, 1943
117 · A Case History · John Anthony West · ss, 1973
121 · Fondly Fahrenheit · Alfred Bester · nv F&SF Aug ’54
143 · Lukundoo [1907] · Edward Lucas White · ss Weird Tales Nov ’25
159 · The Cabbage Patch · Theodore R. Cogswell · ss Perspective Fll ’52
165 · Oil of Dog · Ambrose Bierce · ss Oakland Daily Evening Tribune Oct 11, 1890
171 · The Time of the Big Sleep [France, Fiction 1971] · Jean-Pierre Andrevon · nv *
195 · The Right Man for the Right Job · J. C. Thompson · ss Playboy Jul ’62
207 · The Year of the Jackpot · Robert A. Heinlein · nv Galaxy Mar ’52

A Treasury of Modern Fantasy ed. Terry Carr & Martin H. Greenberg (Avon 0-380-77115-2, Mar ’81, $8.95, 588pp, tp)

xiii · Introduction · Terry Carr & Martin H. Greenberg · in
1 · The Rats in the Walls · H. P. Lovecraft · ss Weird Tales Mar ’24
19 · The Woman of the Wood [earlier version of “The Woman of the Wood”, Weird Tales Aug ’26] · A. Merritt · nv The Fox Woman & Other Stories, Avon, 1949
45 · Trouble with Water · Horace L. Gold · ss Unknown Mar ’39
63 · Thirteen O’Clock [as by Cecil Corwin; Peter Packer] · C. M. Kornbluth · nv Stirring Science Stories Feb ’41
85 · The Coming of the White Worm · Clark Ashton Smith · ss Stirring Science Stories Apr ’41
97 · Yesterday Was Monday · Theodore Sturgeon · ss Unknown Jun ’41
113 · They Bite · Anthony Boucher · ss Unknown Aug ’43
123 · Call Him Demon [as by Keith Hammond] · Henry Kuttner · ss Thrilling Wonder Stories Fll ’46
145 · Daemon · C. L. Moore · ss Famous Fantastic Mysteries Oct ’46
165 · The Black Ferris · Ray Bradbury · ss Weird Tales May ’48
173 · Displaced Person · Eric Frank Russell · vi Weird Tales Sep ’48
177 · Our Fair City · Robert A. Heinlein · ss Weird Tales Jan ’49
193 · Come and Go Mad · Fredric Brown · nv Weird Tales Jul ’49
227 · There Shall Be No Darkness · James Blish · nv Thrilling Wonder Stories Apr ’50
259 · The Loom of Darkness [“Liane the Wayfarer”; Dying Earth] · Jack Vance · ss The Dying Earth, Hillman, 1950; Worlds Beyond Dec ’50
269 · The Rag Thing [as by David Grinnell] · Donald A. Wollheim · ss F&SF Oct ’51
275 · Sail On! Sail On! · Philip José Farmer · ss Startling Stories Dec ’52
285 · One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts · Shirley Jackson · ss F&SF Jan ’55
295 · That Hell-Bound Train · Robert Bloch · ss F&SF Sep ’58
307 · Nine Yards of Other Cloth [John] · Manly Wade Wellman · ss F&SF Nov ’58
323 · The Montavarde Camera · Avram Davidson · ss F&SF May ’59
335 · Man Overboard · John Collier · nv Argosy (UK) Jan ’60
355 · My Dear Emily · Joanna Russ · nv F&SF Jul ’62
375 · Descending · Thomas M. Disch · ss Fantastic Jul ’64
387 · Four Ghosts in Hamlet · Fritz Leiber · nv F&SF Jan ’65
417 · Divine Madness · Roger Zelazny · ss Magazine of Horror Sum ’66
425 · Narrow Valley · R. A. Lafferty · ss F&SF Sep ’66
437 · Timothy [Anita] · Keith Roberts · ss sf Impulse Sep ’66
449 · Longtooth · Edgar Pangborn · nv F&SF Jan ’70
479 · Through a Glass—Darkly · Zenna Henderson · nv F&SF Oct ’70
501 · Piper at the Gates of Dawn · Richard Cowper · na F&SF Mar ’76
547 · Jeffty Is Five · Harlan Ellison · ss F&SF Jul ’77
565 · Within the Walls of Tyre · Michael Bishop · nv Weirdbook #13 ’78

The Fantasy Hall of Fame ed. Robert Silverberg (HarperPrism 0-06-105215-9, Mar ’98 [Feb ’98], $14.00, 562pp, tp); Anthology of 30 fantasy stories from 1939 to 1990, chosen by SFWA members. Introduction by Silverberg; individual story introductions by Martin H. Greenberg.

vii · Introduction · Robert Silverberg · in
1 · Trouble with Water · H. L. Gold · ss Unknown Mar ’39
21 · Nothing in the Rules · L. Sprague de Camp · nv Unknown Jul ’39
47 · Fruit of Knowledge · C. L. Moore · nv Unknown Oct ’40
77 · Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius [1941] · Jorge Luís Borges · ss Labyrinths, New Directions, 1962
91 · The Compleat Werewolf [Fergus O’Breen] · Anthony Boucher · na Unknown Apr ’42
137 · The Small Assassin · Ray Bradbury · ss Dime Mystery Magazine Nov ’46
153 · The Lottery · Shirley Jackson · ss The New Yorker Jun 26 ’48
161 · Our Fair City · Robert A. Heinlein · ss Weird Tales Jan ’49
177 · There Shall Be No Darkness · James Blish · nv Thrilling Wonder Stories Apr ’50
211 · The Loom of Darkness [“Liane the Wayfarer”; Dying Earth] · Jack Vance · ss The Dying Earth, Hillman, 1950
221 · The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles [as by Idris Seabright] · Margaret St. Clair · ss F&SF Oct ’51
225 · The Silken-Swift · Theodore Sturgeon · nv F&SF Nov ’53
243 · The Golem · Avram Davidson · ss F&SF Mar ’55
249 · Operation Afreet [Steven Matuchek; Ginny Greylock] · Poul Anderson · nv F&SF Sep ’56
277 · That Hell-Bound Train · Robert Bloch · ss F&SF Sep ’58
289 · Bazaar of the Bizarre [Fafhrd & Gray Mouser] · Fritz Leiber · nv Fantastic Aug ’63
311 · Come Lady Death · Peter S. Beagle · ss Atlantic Monthly Sep ’63
327 · The Drowned Giant · J. G. Ballard · ss The Terminal Beach, London: Gollancz, 1964
337 · Narrow Valley · R. A. Lafferty · ss F&SF Sep ’66
349 · Faith of Our Fathers · Philip K. Dick · nv Dangerous Visions, ed. Harlan Ellison, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967
379 · The Ghost of a Model T · Clifford D. Simak · nv Epoch, ed. Roger Elwood & Robert Silverberg, Berkley, 1975
393 · The Demoness · Tanith Lee · ss The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories #2, ed. Lin Carter, DAW, 1976
405 · Jeffty Is Five · Harlan Ellison · ss F&SF Jul ’77
423 · The Detective of Dreams · Gene Wolfe · nv Dark Forces, ed. Kirby McCauley, Viking, 1980
439 · Unicorn Variations · Roger Zelazny · nv Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine (IASFM, now Asimov's Science Fiction) Apr 13 ’81
461 · Basileus · Robert Silverberg · ss The Best of Omni Science Fiction, No. 5, ed. Don Myrus, Omni, 1983
477 · The Jaguar Hunter · Lucius Shepard · nv F&SF May ’85
501 · Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight · Ursula K. Le Guin · nv Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences, Capra Press, 1987
527 · Bears Discover Fire · Terry Bisson · ss IASFM Aug ’90
537 · Tower of Babylon · Ted Chiang · nv Omni Nov ’90


pattinase (abbott) said...

Wow, when you do a review, you do a review. This is a great resource.

C. Margery Kempe said...

Yeah, agreed. Massive post there, Todd. Did you have to lie down afterward?

As usual thoughtful and exhaustive -- pity you can't do it on a more regular basis, or in a more public place. Something to consider...

Todd Mason said...

The opportunity to be foolish in public has not altogether escaped me...but the true writer's duty, cut, shape and revise, and the true scholar's, doublecheck and triplecheck, are both currently only fitfully feasible. Thanks for the kind remarks, though. (I bow to Contento and company, which includes me in a small way with the FM Index and the Misc. Anthologies Index, in terms of Resource that more than borders on International Treasure.)

Charles Gramlich said...

Wow, what a thorough review. I have this book and have read some of the stories out of it, but not all.

David Cranmer said...

This would be my kind of anthology. Thanks for the in-depth review.