Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: PARTNERS IN WONDER by Harlan Ellison in Collaboration

The Contento Index:

Partners in Wonder Harlan Ellison (Walker, 1971, hc)
· Sons of Janus · in
· I See a Man Sitting on a Chair, and the Chair Is Biting His Leg · Harlan Ellison & Robert Sheckley · nv F&SF Jan ’68
· Brillo · Harlan Ellison & Ben Bova · nv Analog Aug ’70
· A Toy for Juliette · Robert Bloch · ss Dangerous Visions, ed. Harlan Ellison, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967
· The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World · nv Dangerous Visions, ed. Harlan Ellison, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967
· Scherzo for Schizoids: Notes on a Collaboration · ms Knight Nov ’65
· Up Christopher to Madness · Harlan Ellison & Avram Davidson · ss Knight Nov ’65
· Runesmith · Harlan Ellison & Theodore Sturgeon · ss F&SF May ’70
· Rodney Parish for Hire · Harlan Ellison & Joe L. Hensley · ss Swank May ’62
· The Kong Papers · Harlan Ellison & William Rotsler · ct The Kong Papers, William Rotsler & Harlan Ellison, 1969
· The Human Operators · Harlan Ellison & A. E. van Vogt · ss F&SF Jan ’71
· Survivor No. 1 [“The Man with the Green Nose”] · Harlan Ellison & Henry Slesar · ss Knave Sep ’59
· The Power of the Nail · Harlan Ellison & Samuel R. Delany · ss Amazing Nov ’68
· Wonderbird · Harlan Ellison & Algis Budrys · ss Infinity Science Fiction Sep ’57
· The Song the Zombie Sang · Harlan Ellison & Robert Silverberg · ss Cosmopolitan Dec ’70
· Street Scene [“Dunderbird”] · Harlan Ellison & Keith Laumer · ss Galaxy Jan ’69; this story has two different endings. The version with the Ellison ending was in Galaxy, the version with the Laumer ending was in Adam Mar ’69 as “Street Scene”.
· Come to Me Not in Winter’s White · Harlan Ellison & Roger Zelazny · ss F&SF Oct ’69

There are certain books which will change your life, though usually only very slightly. This was one of those for me, an a young reader, which more than any other early reading experience brought home the sense of a writer's life and the community of writers. It's available as an e-book, which is the source of the link to the introduction, but I read the Pyramid edition with the Leo and Diane Dillon cover design pictured here, part of the series they did of Ellison paperbacks for the publisher (some reissued by Jove after the purchase). This is almost certainly the only version of an Ellison book to be blurbed with the employment of Jimmie Walker's mid-'70s catchphrase.

The stories here, in what was the first collection of collaborations between one writer and several others that Ellison was aware of (I think there was at least one previous example, but it eludes me at the moment), are a mixed lot (and include a series of cartoons with William Rotsler which struck me as Just OK even when I was ten, not Rotsler's best work in the form, certainly--though I'm still fond of Fay Wray in the clutches of the big ape as he scales the Empire State, and someone shouting up from below, "Trip him, Fay!"). Even the best of them are almost invariably not quite up to the best of either collaborator, but they do have a special flavor...even when, as with the the two stories by Robert Bloch and Harlan Ellison individually, the collaboration is more along the lines of nudging inspiration...resulting in a decent Bloch story, since his was merely commissioned for Dangerous Visions, and a rather better sequel to that story by Ellison, who was mildly obsessed with what he was asking Bloch to do (both stories being sequels to Bloch's early story "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper," one of those stories which follow their creators around for their entire careers, and one of the most widely plagiarized stories written in the last century). The antic comedies, such as the Laumer and Davidson collaborations, are often more successful than the attempts at more serious work, but the darker humor of the Sheckley and Silverberg stories are certainly effective. And, of course, while I'd read a few Davidson stories before this book (in anthologies attributed to Hitchcock), this was the first opportunity I had to read Davidson's delightful nonfiction, in this case an acocunt of an incident that Ellison also recounts, and the comparison of the two versions is telling and extremely entertaining.

And the Bova story, "Brillo," was even ripped off for at least two tv series, though only actionably for one.

Still a valuable read, and the ancillary material might be Ellison at his best at this, at which he is one of the best.

For more "Forgotten" Books, please see Patti Abbott's blog, though updates will be delayed while she Shakespeares.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books: SOMEWHERE THERE'S MUSIC by George Lea (Lippincott, 1958)

Haven't found an image for this one yet, and my computer's down, so can't scan in my copy's cover. It'a a reasonable, if blah, cover, for a slightly unusual production for 1958 of a first publication in "oversized" or "quality" paperback (to facilitate, says Lippincott, the wide distribution of this first novel at $1.50 a hit, when mass-market paperbacks were averaging 35c).

Much later, I add this image: 

Where this novel is remembered, it's remembered as a jazz novel, involving as it does a second-gen jazz musician, returned from his military service and ready, if somewhat tentatively, to throw himself into the late '50s jazz milieu, even if his swing-era father doesn't understand the post-bop music the protag plays and seeks to play better. (To remember that over the space of a week fifty years ago that both the Brubeck Quartet's Time Out and the Ornette Coleman Quartet's The Shape of Jazz to Come were released is to realize just how much ferment there was in the late '50s, even if the popular support, Time Out's sales notwithstanding, was not up to the levels of the '30s and '40s.) He gets into a doomed affair, he decides to medicate his pain, and generally resents not being dug where he's not. Very much in the mode of the misunderstood young man novel that you know the shape of even if you haven't read many (or perhaps even any), it is a reasonably good portrait of the music scene of its time, even if novelists ranging from Nelson Algren to Nat Hentoff have done similar work better.

This is the weakest book that I've reviewed in this series, but it is still worth a look for those who are interested in young writers of the era, particularly if you want to see who was on the bench while the Kerouacs and McCarthys were (deservedly) getting more attention for their homerun hitting. (Mary McCarthy was a slugger, doubt it not.) I don't believe Lea published another novel. And if I'm going to post a cover scan for it, I'm going to have scan my own copy...

For more Forgotten books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books: BEYOND, edited by Thomas Dardis (Berkley, 1963)

The Contento Index: Beyond ed. Anon.[by Thomas A. Dardis] (Berkley Medallion F712, Jan ’63, 50¢, 160pp, pb)
 7 · The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Matisse · Ray Bradbury · ss Beyond Fantasy Fiction Mar ’54 
15 · The Ghost Maker · Frederik Pohl · ss Beyond Fantasy Fiction Jan ’54 
27 · Can Such Beauty Be? · Jerome Bixby · ss Beyond Fantasy Fiction Sep ’53 
40 · The Real People · Algis Budrys · na Beyond Fantasy Fiction Nov ’53 
94 · The Beautiful Brew · James E. Gunn · nv Beyond Fantasy Fiction Sep ’54 
117 · I’d Give a Dollar · Winston K. Marks · ss Beyond Fantasy Fiction May ’54 
130 · The Root and the Ring · Wyman Guin · nv  Beyond Fantasy Fiction Sep ’54 150 · Double Whammy · Fredric Brown · gp Beyond Fantasy Fiction Sep ’54;                        
            Naturally, vi; 
            Voodoo, vi 
153 · Talent · Theodore Sturgeon · ss Beyond Fantasy Fiction Sep ’53 

So, this is about as forgotten a book in fantasy-fiction publishing as has ever been released by a major publisher in the field, featuring good (but largely unreprinted) stories by major writers (and a few solid minor writers) in the field, from a magazine that suffered several strikes against it (but largely not artistically, it having published much rather more popular work). Edited by Thomas Dardis, who is credited nowhere on the package (and might well never have edited another book--he was the editor in chief at Berkley Books at the time), the book is misattributed in some places to the magazine Beyond's editor H. L. Gold, a brilliant fantasist in his own right and the clangorous editor of Galaxy, the most influential sf magazine of the 1950s, the stablemate of Beyond. The fantasy magazine, which was issued beginning in 1953, and was retitled from Beyond Fantasy Fiction to Beyond Fiction in 1955 without notable change in content, was hobbled by the financial reverses the Galaxy Publishing Company had suffered--in its very creation, GP Co. had less resources than the international combine, World Editions/Edizioni Mundiale, that had launched Galaxy among several less successful US ventures, and sold the sf magazine to its printer and shut down their US operations. Also, the success of Galaxy had inspired a number of other magazine publishers to try their luck with sf magazines, and sf and fantasy saw more titles flooding the newsstands, at a time when magazine distribution was already becoming a chancier proposition, than ever before or since. Most of these new fiction titles were decentish, but leaning toward the indifferent; some were terrible...which meant any new one, even the sibling of Galaxy, had little chance to distinguish itself, and by the end of the decade most of the magazines had folded. Despite an average quality as good as any of the best fiction magazines in the decade, Beyond folded in 1955, leaving a legacy of largely brilliant longer fiction, often rather notional shorter fiction, and an unusually large percentage of stories with a sort of simmering sexuality that dared not express itself directly, particularly in the early issues. So, eight years later, this anthology, plastered with the claim that Beyond was a great sf magazine, which it was not (like its great model, Unknown Fantasy Fiction, it publshed a fair amount of borderly science fantasy, but not as a majority of its content), and with a decent but unspectacular Richard Powers cover and a clumsy grouping of contributors' names. And its a good, reasoably reprsentative slice of the magazine, leading off with a rather precious Bradbury and wrapping up with a good if unspectacular Sturgeon (not only Bradbury's first great model but also probably the most important contributor to the magazine, much as he was probably the greatest setter of the tone and feel for Unknown in the previous decade, and featuring some of the relatively rare fantasies of Frederik Pohl and Algis Budrys, both much better knwon for their sf, and both vitally important to Galaxy in various ways (even if Budrys was publishing more in nearly every other major sf magazine of the 1950s); the other Gold-magazine stalwarts James Gunn and Wyman Guin (Guin would publish little with any other editor), and such old fantasy hands as Jerome Bixby and Fredric Brown (with two fun if slight vignettes, one of his several specialties). A good if unextraordinary book, and still, I think, the only anthology drawn exclusively from Beyond's inventory, which is criminal in and of itself. But, then, Fantastic's nearly thirty years of publishing is represented by two only slightly less obscure volumes, and they only slightly better representative of its best work. 

Please see Patti Abbott's blog for more of today's and previous weeks' "forgotten" books.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

4 Things (all the kool cids are quadding it)

Four Movies You Can See Over and Over

His Girl Friday
Orpheus (the Cocteau film)
The Candidate
Cat People (preferring the earlier, but there is a certain goofy libidinous charm to the latter)

Four Places You Have Lived

Fairbanks, Alaska
Kailua, Hawaii
Fairfax & Arlington Counties, Virginia (suburban DC)
In and around Philadelphia

Four TV Shows You Love to Watch

going for some of the more obscure among the many:
Thriller (the Boris Karloff-hosted anthology)
Trying Times (the PBS sitcom anthology)
Sunday Night/Night Music
...and the best original dramatic series on US television so far that I've seen,
Once and Again

Four Places You Have Been on a Vacation

As a child:
Beckley, WV
Barre, VT
Washington, DC

As an adult:
Oahu, 1987, with my first ex (before we were exes)
San Francisco Bay Area, 1989, with my first ex (still not exes), Continental Anarchist Gathering
Chicago, 1996, with my first ex (in the process of becoming exes), Democratic National Convention and, more pertinently, the largely anarchist UnConvention
San Francisco Bay Area, 2003, attending a wedding

Four of Your Favorite Foods

Coffee ice cream and Devil Dogs (not supposed to have this, not even with toffee chips)
Stroganoff (on rice) (before going lacto-ovo-Lazy-vegetarian in 1989)
A salad with ginger dressing
BLT--with fake bacon

Four Websites You Visit Daily

The blogroll at right
Public broadcasting entities (at work)
Search engines

Four Places You Would Rather Be

In bed.
In bed with a woman happy to be there with me--a decent breeze through the windows never hurts.
An utterly excellent library or bookstore--a decent breeze through the courtyyard never hurts.
Auditing pleasant to brilliant performance by performers (not a recording of them).

Four Things You Hope to Do Before You Die

Sustain a passionate and/or mutually satisfying romantic relation for more than ten years.
Publish more and better.
Live better, generally.
Disappoint less, if possible.

Four Novels You Wish You Were Reading for the First Time

They can't be good enough to want to reread them?
Fritz Leiber: Conjure Wife
Margaret Atwood: Lady Oracle
Kate Wilhelm: Death Qualified
Joanna Russ: The Female Man

Tag Four People You Believe Will Respond.
Always fun to assign your friends homework.
Keiko? Brian? Kate? Alice?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Books, Nonfiction Edition: ROD SERLING'S NIGHT GALLERY: AN AFTER-HOURS TOUR by Scott Skelton and Jim Benson (Syracuse U Press 1999)

Rod Serling's Night Gallery: An After-Hours Tour is an example of why we can love university presses, even if the ridiculous list price (for this still barely in print volume) of $70 is an example of why we can be disappointed in them as well. This is a reasonably well-written and very well-researched (to the extent of my ability to nitpick) episode by episode and season by season breakdown of the production hassles and greater or lesser aspirations of a series that employed a unique range of talent, and often produced better results than memory might suggest (because so often, worse results were also produced, something the authors are not shy about noting).

Serling, famously, lost what control he had of the series as it went forward, and turned to other projects, such as his five nights a week radio anthology Zero Hour, and such notable narration duties as for the National Geographic Specials spinoff series The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, and Universal TV producer Jack Laird (once called a "thug" by Harlan Ellison) tightened his grip on the production. Meanwhile, the employment of such major jazz musician/composers as Gil Melle (who was moving into exploring electronic music, as with the more memorable series theme) and John Lewis (of the Modern Jazz Quartet and a number of the films from the 1960s onward) is just one slightly surprising example of the caliber of artist working in support roles for the better and worse horror and suspense drama (the most famous Serling line about the series, particularly after the first season, was that it had become "Mannix in a shroud"--like that series, which had also started well, it had become a routine sort of product, at least too often).

Aside from presenting several of the best realizations of H. P. Lovecraft's fiction in audiovisual media so far (if not quite the labors of love that some of more recent productions have been), the series was notable for having the good sense to adapt such major and notable writers as Fritz Leiber and Hal Dresner (in the first actual episode, after the pilot tv film), but odd casting in the adaptation of Leiber's "The Dead Man" weakened the impact there, and utterly inept reworking of the script on set (and a bad performance by a very young Diane Keaton) apparently were the resaons that "Room with a View" is so grindingly inept as presented. A not-bad, if watered down, adaptation of C. M. Kornbluth's "The Little Black Bag" was a part of the next episode.

A fine book about an important series, if not by any means always a good series (however many of us remember fondly "The Earwig" and "They're Tearing Down Tim Reilly's Bar").

Please see Patti Abbott's blog for more Friday's "Forgotten" Books.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

White Icing on the Blacktop

It took a small freight truck to really smash the cake. A Jeep had clipped it, most of the cars had managed to get around it without touching it. Not being a jerk, he'd put the modest three-layer construct on the edge of the lane, and sat watching from the hillock just beyond the shoulder on the other side of the country highway.

But he wanted to see it smashed, and now he had. Smashing it himself would seem like cheating, in at least two senses...he hadn't been responsible, not directly, for what happened to her, so why should he take it out completely on his own on the cake. And, of course, actually attacking the cake himself would also seem like an attack on the wedding, an attack on their union, on her. If he had any hostility toward her, it was only the resentment that she was gone...and he couldn't begin to resent her very much, so much as to want to, well, destroy the world. Better, instead, to passively destroy the overpriced cake that, of course, couldn't be returned nor cheerfully disposed with (hey, want some cake that she would've rubbed my face in?).

Like most wedding cake, it wasn't even all that good. It had been pretty. He'd taken a bite of the top layer before solemnly setting it down just inside the white line on Rt. 43 West.

You never really know which airplanes will crash. Nor when. Nor who will be aboard. Nor why you weren't on the flight with her, except for the petty bit of business that would've put him on the redeye the next morning...if it hadn't been moot by 7pm that evening.

Or so he reflected, as he watched a sedan splatter some of the remains of the cake onto the shoulder. He decided he'd watch this for another'd be dark by then. He had no idea what he'd do then, but it didn't matter much, and probably wouldn't for a while.

(Please see Patti Abbott's blog for other responses to this flash-fiction write a vignette of 750 or fewer words featuring a wedding cake in a road.)