Thursday, March 26, 2009

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: THE UNEXPECTED, edited by Leo Margulies (or Sam Moskowitz or D. R. Bensen, or perhaps some combination)

The Contento Index of this anthology:

The Unexpected ed. Leo Margulies (Pyramid G590, Feb ’61, 35¢, 160pp, pb)
6 · Introduction · Leo Margulies · in
7 · The Professor’s Teddy-Bear · Theodore Sturgeon · ss Weird Tales Mar ’48
17 · Legal Rites [Pohl as James MacCreigh] · Isaac Asimov & Frederik Pohl · nv Weird Tales Sep ’50
42 · The Strange Island of Dr. Nork · Robert Bloch · ss Weird Tales Mar ’49
60 · Mrs. Hawk · Margaret St. Clair · ss Weird Tales Jul ’50
67 · The Handler · Ray Bradbury · ss Weird Tales Jan ’47
76 · The Automatic Pistol · Fritz Leiber · ss Weird Tales May ’40
91 · The Unwanted · Mary Elizabeth Counselman · ss Weird Tales Jan ’51
102 · The Valley Was Still · Manly Wade Wellman · ss Weird Tales Aug ’39
115 · The Scrawny One · Anthony Boucher · vi Weird Tales May ’49
119 · Come and Go Mad · Fredric Brown · nv Weird Tales Jul ’49
154 · The Big Shot · Eric Frank Russell · ss Weird Tales Jan ’49

Of all the anthologies drawn from the fiction published in Weird Tales, this might be the only one (certainly the only one I've seen) which draws entirely from the Dorothy McIlwraith years of the magazine, 1940-1954. Given how often Farnsworth Wright, her predecessor (editor from 1924, after the magazine's weathervaning first year, to 1939), is often credited for all the Important and Creative work WT published, this was a pretty extraordinary idea for 1960 (published in early '61)...albeit most of the writers collected here were at least as potent commercial forces at mid-century as Lovecraft, Howard, or, certainly, Clark Ashton Smith or Seabury Quinn. (As well as being generally better artists, but that's my opinion, if one shared by any number of other not merely contrarian observers.)

This is a nice mix of classics (the Wellman, the Brown, to some extent the Sturgeon--a collection of Sturgeon's horror and suspense fiction is overdue, perhaps particularly as the Complete Stories project comes to a close--and the Leiber) and relatively obscure stories (most of the rest...nearly all of whose authors had written better-known fiction for WT, aside from Pohl and Asimov, whose minor but not-bad story was their only WT appearance--and only formal collaboration, I think, till their nonfiction book Our Angry Earth shortly before Asimov's death). That odd quality makes me wonder if Sam Moskowitz ghost-edited this one, as he did the other WT anthos attributed to Margulies and published by Pyramid at about the same time...Weird Tales and Worlds of Weird (the latter cited some months back by James Reasoner as his forgotten book). Then again, D.R. Bensen, who edited for that excellent paperback house Pyramid, and who was solely responsible for two fine anthologies from Unknown, might've done more than shepherd this one through the process (Pyramid did an impressive set of Harlan Ellison reissues in the mid 1970s, among much else, before being eaten up and spat out by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in the latest '70s as the Jove Books line...the elegant packaging of most 1970s Pyramid Books, at least the ones I remember, abandoned for some real insults to the eye). (Late bulletin: I'll have to admit the 1972 Pyramid edition of Robert Heinlein's The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag, retitled for that issue 6xH, as in "Six by Heinlein," has a quite unappealing attempt at psychedelic cover illustration, as well as an awkward new title...I happened to pull this one out of a box this morning while looking for something else.)

Margulies, of course, had purchased the WT inventory and rights from Short Stories, Inc., after the latter's 1954 collapse, and briefly published a Weird Tales magazine revival in 1973-74, with Moskowitz as editor (Margulies had more sustained success with Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, which he published from 1956 up till his death in the latter 1970s (it lasted for several more years in other hands), and his other projects in the post-pulp era included Satellite Science Fiction in the latter '50s, The Man from U*N*C*L*E Magazine [and The Girl...] during the TV series' runs, a revival of Zane Grey Western Magazine around the turn of the 1970s, and Charlie Chan Mystery Magazine in the early '70s).

Mary Elizabeth Counselman and particularly Margaret St. Clair have been entirely too overlooked in recent years, as have, to a lesser extent, Eric Frank Russell and Anthony Boucher, though at least as a critic and fan of crime fiction, Boucher is in print and memorialized by the annual world convention. Of the four, Counselman didn't publishe much fiction outside of WT...while St. Clair was able to get almost naked horror into Galaxy magazine at its early '50s first peak. John Campbell used the excuse of a Russell novella to found his fantasy magazine, Unknown, which had a fruitful interplay with McIlwraith's WT. And, of course, Bloch and Bradbury were the hottest stars of McIlwraith's WT, here represented by insufficiently representative stories, but they'll do.

See if you can find a copy, pehaps without the shillings and pence shouldn't be be too hard.

Find more Friday Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott's blog

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Friday's "Forgotten" Book: THE HORROR HALL OF FAME edited by Robert Silverberg and Martin Harry Greenberg (Carroll & Graf 1991)

The contents, courtesy of William Contento and LOCUS magazine:

The Horror Hall of Fame ed. Robert Silverberg & Martin H. Greenberg (Carroll & Graf 0-88184-692-9, Jul ’91, $21.95, 416pp, hc); Anthology of 18 classic horror stories. There is an uncredited introduction by Stefan Dziemianowicz.
9 · Introduction [by Stefan R. Dziemianowicz] · Anon. · in
17 · The Fall of the House of Usher · Edgar Allan Poe · ss Burton’s Gentlemen’s Magazine Sep, 1839
36 · Green Tea [Martin Hesselius] · Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu · nv All the Year Round Oct 23-Nov 13, 1869
69 · The Damned Thing · Ambrose Bierce · ss Tales from New York Town Topics Dec 7, 1893; Weird Tales Sep ’23
79 · The Yellow Sign · Robert W. Chambers · nv The King in Yellow, New York & Chicago: F. Tennyson Neely, 1895
101 · The Monkey’s Paw · W. W. Jacobs · ss Harper’s Monthly Sep ’02
113 · The White People · Arthur Machen · nv Horlick’s Magazine Jan ’04
152 · The Willows · Algernon Blackwood · na The Listener and Other Stories, London: Eveleigh Nash, 1907
202 · Casting the Runes · M. R. James · nv More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, Arnold, 1911
224 · The Graveyard Rats · Henry Kuttner · ss Weird Tales Mar ’36
234 · Pigeons from Hell · Robert E. Howard · nv Weird Tales May ’38
263 · It · Theodore Sturgeon · nv Unknown Aug ’40
289 · Smoke Ghost · Fritz Leiber · ss Unknown Oct ’41
306 · Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper · Robert Bloch · ss Weird Tales Jul ’43
324 · The Small Assassin · Ray Bradbury · ss Dime Mystery Magazine Nov ’46
341 · The Whimper of Whipped Dogs · Harlan Ellison · ss Bad Moon Rising, ed. Thomas M. Disch, Harper & Row, 1973
360 · Calling Card · Ramsey Campbell · ss Dark Companions, Macmillan, 1982
367 · Coin of the Realm · Charles L. Grant · ss Tales from the Nightside, Arkham House, 1981
380 · The Reach [“Do the Dead Sing?”] · Stephen King · ss Yankee Nov ’81
402 · Biographical Notes · Misc. Material · bg

This book has been mentioned and detailed in this blog before, but now for a closer look (particularly after I finally obtained my own copy, and have passed one along to a friend who was bogging down after making the error of buying the B&N Lovecraft omnibus because she thought she was getting first-rate fiction conmensurate with HPL's rep). This was the third such volume that Robert Silverberg has put together, after similar volumes assembled from poll-winners among sf writers (the SF Writers of America's THE SCIENCE FICTION HALL OF FAME, Volume 1) and fantasy fans (THE FANTASY HALL OF FAME, from a poll at a World Fantasy Convention). This one was shaped by ballots at two succeeding World Fantasy Conventions...and it's a solid set, slightly remarkable in that no Lovecraft story managed to make the final cut (not remarkable in artistic so much as populist terms).

It's a collection of chestnuts, as any such "Hall of Fame" volume is likely to be...and only in a few cases do we have a bit of electoral injustice, such as Robert Bloch represented by his most widely-plagiarized story (and one of the most widely-plagiarized stories ever written--only Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game" comes to mind as one more widely aped), rather than his best, by any means. Ray Bradbury might be represented a bit more relevantly by a story either more believeable (say, "The October Game") or actually supernatural horror (say, "Skeleton"), but that's less unjust than passing over such Bloch wonders as "Sweets to the Sweet" or "The Weird Tailor" for Jack.

More troubling is the utter lack of women writers in the book...Shirley Jackson, Margaret St. Clair (aka Idris Seabright), Patricia Highsmith, Joan Aiken (among those active at mid-20th Century...Edith Wharton being an example of someone who might've inspired them) all come to mind as having obvious candidate-stories that probably should've made the ballot, if Silverberg and Greenberg provided suggestions to the voters or not. The absence of Manly Wade Wellman, Dennis Etchison, John Collier, Saki, E. F. Benson is made more obvious by the inclusion of Stephen King, however many people might or might not've picked up the book solely for his name.

That noted, this is an excellent collection for the most part, and an even better means of giving the curious reader a sense of the range of horror fiction over the last century and a half...the fiction gives a sense of that better than the uncredited introduction or the story headnotes, both of which have an unfortunate tendency to blow plot points of the stories collected here, so they are best read after reading the stories, or at least any stories that one hasn't read before.

And if you've not read any of these stories before, including the most influential of Fritz Leiber's short horror fictions and perhaps the best thing Robert Howard wrote, certainly the most famous stories that most of these talented men have written, or at least among their horror fiction (Sturgeon came close to "It" with "Shottle Bop" and several others...Bierce has at least a dozen that rival the selection here, and Poe a few other truly fantasticated horrors, not least "The Masque of the Red Death" and "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar"...)'s hard to go wrong here.

And the introduction is a much less unreliable guide to the field than, say, David Hartwell's attempt at a similar, if more ambitious, guide in his anthology The Dark Descent.

Good stuff. Pity that its publisher has given up the ghost, and it's out of print, though pretty easily available on the secondhand market, in both the original and Doubleday/SF Book Club edition.

For more Forgotten Books, see the blogroll at Patti Abbott's blog.

the current best night of television in the US...for the next week or so.

If you want evidence that the US television might've seen its best years slipping away, be aware that the current best night of primetime commercial broadcast television, the current (for the next two weeks or so) Wednesday nights, are great because of three essentially cancelled series playing out their strings, and one newcomer which isn't too discouraging.

Wednesdays. EDT:
ABC 8-8:30 PM Scrubs
8:30-9 PM Better Off Ted (now filling in for a second Scrubs)
NBC 9-10 PM Life
ABC 10-11 PM Life on Mars

Scrubs might not be working Too hard, as they take the victory lap of their eighth season and first on ABC, but it's better than it's been for a while. Better Off Ted probably won't last the summer, but it's not without a certain charm and wit (but will annoy many with its arch "zaniness."). Life is simply the best series on broadcast now, at least, an intelligently acted and written series that pulls all of its threads just so. Life on Mars improves on what (admittedly little) I've seen of its UK parent, and just when one thinks it's too heavy-handed, dances right past one with a deft twist or so.

And they'll all be over in weeks or perhaps a month or so.

At least the last really good night (Babylon-5, The X-Files, Homicide: Life on the was all the punctuation that made them) lasted a full season, in DC in '95-'96.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Frday's Forgotten Books: TIME OF THE WOLVES: WESTERN STORIES by Marcia Muller (Five Star Books, 2003)

This is the most recent book I've covered in the Patti Abbott-driven "Forgotten Books" series of capsule reviews/recommendations, but it's already out of print (at least in the original edition...the Large Print edition, which has the handsomer cover I've posted here, is available)...Five Star, a division of Gale, aims its products at public libraries, though aficionados of crime fiction particularly have been known to pick up their releases (and they do have available another volume, a mixed collection led off by a collaborative novella, of western fiction from Muller and her husband, Bill Pronzini, Crucifixion River).

Muller began writing western fiction in large part out of enouragement from Pronzini, back in their pre-married days, as Muller notes in her introduction; several of the earlier stories appeared in anthologies edited or co-edited by Pronzini, who has been publishing his own western fiction since the late '60s, and one of the stories in this volume, "Cave of Ice," was their first attempt at a collaborative story. The title story was loosely adapted for an anthology telefilm, Into the Wild, albeit Muller wasn't too impressed with the result. The jacket copy misleads us, stating that "Time of the Wolves" won, rather than (as Muller notes) was shortlisted, for the Western Writers of America Spur Award for best short fiction for its year.

The stories are arranged in chronological order of publication, earliest first, and thus one gets to see Muller get more comfortable with period language in the non-contemporary westerns (the stories very nearly alternate between contemporary western fiction, including a story in her Elena Oliverez series and two in her most widely-read sequence featuring private detective Sharon McCone, which nonetheless has some plot-element or other connection to the frontier west, and historical western fiction set in frontier times) of Muller's greatest strengths is her lean, almost transparent prose that also maintains a sort of tension of immediacy at its frequent best, particularly in the McCone stories, a style which is slightly cramped in the earliest historicals, but by "Sisters," a 1989 effort involving two women alienated from their respective Caucasian and Native communities who strike up a cautious friendship, her comfort with the dialect and period references is surer. (I like "Sisters" better than "Time of the Wolves," but the slightly older story is one of those narratives where shitstorm believably follows catastrophe, and I can see why both the Spur judges and the tv movie folks were attracted to it.) The last two stories in the book are set in the same fictional county, in frontier times, as the contemporary novel Point Deception, a nice bit of business (the novel has been on my To Be Read pile for a few months now). As a Detroit native (hi, Patti!) who migrated as a young adult to the SF Bay Area and remained settled there since (hello, again, Patti...whose passage was from Philadelphia to the Motor City area), Muller is one of the best writers about the Bay Area geist and California region we have...she hasn't, for me, yet exceeded the excellence of the first McCone novel I read, 1989's Trophies and Dead Things, but she's nearly equalled it several times since, and no one reading Time of the Wolves is likely to be wishing to read something else instead.

One other oddity about the Five Star edition is that Ramona Watson's Plantin typography is utterly lacking in italics, leaving some titles in the text in all caps, and other passages in bold, though only the latter looks antiprofessional. Perhaps Plantin lacks italics for some reason (and good on Five Star for crediting the typographer).

I've been reading Bill Pronzini's work for nearly all my literate life, but haven't met him yet...I have met Muller, sadly not under the best of circumstances. I used to work in a Borders Book Shop, for the latter half of my stint as the office manager (which at a Borders at that time meant Payroll Manager, Primary Store Accountant, and Last in Line in the Management Hierarchy if a bookseller or barista was being hassled or other momentous authority figuring was required), and our Borders had for most of my time a public events coordinator who just couldn't seem to get the local press nor customers interested in much of anything...this was in the DC suburbs, so US Rep. Barney Frank drew a good crowd, and the combined power of her several audiences meant that a Madeliene L'Engle event, not long before her death, was a blowout, but an appearance at our store by Marcia Muller, scheduled for an late weekday afternoon no less (as I remember it), was not well-conceived. In fact, even I wasn't aware she was coming till an hour beforehand, and when I expressed interest in the prospect, the coordinator asked me if I would introduce her. What I should've realized, but didn't, was that I would also be a large proportion of the audience for her in the store, which eventually numbered as much as five or seven. She was, as one might gather, not pleased, and cut her appearance to a brief Q&A, where it became clear that I was the only person in the six to eight who knew who she was, and the others had decided to sit down out of mild curiosity. (Floyd Kemske, then publishing Aboriginal Science Fiction and writing suspense novels, had a similar experience in our store a few months earlier, which he wrote up for his column in that magazine...Kemske didn't even have the meager benefit of my presence, and since I wouldn't've recognized his name at that point only from Abo, where he chose for no really good reason to refer to himself solely and officially as "A Crazy Alien," a ploy unmatched among professional fiction magazines in its editorial childish cuteness since the early 1940s letter column in Thrilling Wonder Stories conducted by Sarge Saturn and his companion WartEars...actually, Sarge still comes out ahead [Kemske previously had been the editor of an abortive attempt to continue publishing the once-seminal Galaxy magazine, and perhaps feared prejudice on that score]).

A pity, since I've continued to be a big fan of Muller's work.