Monday, November 30, 2009

Discount Primrose (an Abbott challenge vignette)

Patti Abbott challenged the assembled to write a vignette about WalMart. A sleepy weekend didn't push me in one of the three directions I was thinking of, but this is the one that I actually spooled out:

Discount Primrose

Long ago, folks used to leave the store. I don’t know why or what they did, but that’s what they used to do. The Greeters went to the doors and welcomed people in, weren’t yet the Priests of Walton, or at least not the same way. Remarkable.

[The rest is currently in contractual reservation to the e-book DISCOUNT NOIR, edited by Patricia Abbott and Steve Weddell.]

Copyright 2009 by Todd Mason, solely and entirely.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: GOLDBRICK by Edward Wellen (THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, November 1978)

Goldbrick by Edward Wellen was an unusual inclusion in the November, 1978, issue of F&SF, for at least two reasons. Most obviously, it not being sf or fantasy in any meaningful way made it unusual, but not unique...the January issue of "competitor" Fantastic would be published shortly thereafter with Jack Dann's short "Days of Stone" which was similarly in a fantasy magazine largely because it was a good story by a writer who often, though not in this case, wrote sf or fantasy...and Goldbrick was also unusual in being a long novella/short novel in one issue of the magazine, printed in a smaller typeface than the rest of the contents so as to cram it all in. Wellen, a fairly regular contributor to both the fantastic- and crime-fiction magazines, was at last report is still alive, though he would be 90 this year and is perhaps not active as a fiction writer (I've not seen any new work from him for a while); he had contributed such near-future borderline sf/cf as the novel Hijack to F&SF's companion magazine Venture Science Fiction, which is one of the relatively few Wellen novels to see book publication (from the Ballantines' Beagle Books imprint); Wellen was a consistently interesting professional, and it seens odd that he's so poorly represented in book form (though Martin Harry Greenberg has certainly not been the only editor to anthologize his shorter work).

Goldbrick is a story of a military man who finds himself ever more tied up with and the target of a terrorist conpiracy; one passage, the description of the aftermath of a torture session, is not extraordinarily explicit but is sketched in so deftly and offhandedly, and gives even the rather breezily cynical protagonist pause, that it's stuck with me through the decades. The balance of the novel is smoothly written and well-worked out, and I'm not sure why, as far as I can tell, this work was never reprinted in book form. It might be that Wellen, who was doing scriptwriting in Hollywood, was not too worried how his prose might be published, or didn't find it worth pursuing as vigorously (or, like not a few writers, looked upon his prose work as a pressure valve, a way of flexing the muscles that would otherwise atrophy in the usual run of scripting).

The excellent cover for this issue is actually for the Jane Yolen story, "Brother Hart"; Bill Pronzini has one of his occasional fantasies, "Cat," in this issue. Ray Lovell's annotated index of this issue follows:

Yolen, Jane Brother Hart ss story to be in forthcoming coll. Dream Weaver(1979); has 1st novel with adult elements, The Magic Three of Solatia(1974; 1984), episodic, a sequence of 4 novellas tracing the impact of three magic buttons & their power on a group of people(Clute)
Budrys, Algis Books br essay: Clarion & other workshops, & the students who want to be sf writers; D.R. Bensen: And Having Writ ...; Arkady & Boris Strugatsky: Definitely Maybe; Poul Anderson: The Earth Book of Stormgate
Young, Robert F. Project Hi-Rise ss
Wilson, Gahan Cartoon ct
Mendelsohn, M. Little Goethe nv his 1st pub. fiction; a univ. professor in England
Pronzini, Bill Cat ss has anth. of sf/f interest, Midnight Specials(1978), Werewolf!(1979), Dark Sins, Dark Dreams: Crime in S. F.(1978), The End of Summer(1979; vt The Fifties: The End of Summer), Shared Tomorrows: S. F. in Collaboration(1979), the last 3 w. Barry N. Malzberg
Searles, Baird Films and Television: Oddity by Homer, An mr/tvr Adventures of Ulysses(1969 TV), originally the mini-series The Odyssey, made by Italian TV in 1969; briefly, Phase IV(1973); Monte Python and the Holy Grail(1974)
De Vet, Charles V. Second Chance ss "I taught school for half a dozen years ... then worked in the Post Office for 27 years ... write an occasional story when an idea comes along that seems too good to let go by"; see his obit in LOC 1997 MAY(#436)
Hoshi, Shinichi He—y, Come On Ou—t! ss (1926-1997) 1st pub. in his coll. The Spiteful Planet and Other Stories(1978); trans. from the Japanese by Stanleigh Jones, Chairman of the Dept. of Asian Studies, Claremont Graduate School(CA); also in F&SF as Hoshi Shin'ichi; obit in LOC 1998 FEB(#445)
Asimov, Isaac Checklist of Isaac Asimov's F&SF Science Essays, 1958-1978, A bib an alphabetical listing by title of the 240 science essays(does not include the essay in this issue), with a very brief description of their subject matter, & in which collection each essay may be found in, & the titles of all the essay collections so far
Asimov, Isaac Science: Fifty Million Big Brothers sces extraterrrestial life possibilities, Part 1 of 2; the possibility of other life in the universe; an update of the essay "Who's Out There?" in 1963 SEP; Part 2 in 1978 DEC(#4202)
Wellen, Edward Goldbrick na "the adventures of Lt. Stonewall J. Buckmaster, on assignment to the 10th Experimental Company"

Please see Patti Abbott's blog for other "forgotten" books this week.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Lawrence Block on Donald Westlake

Block notes that Donald Westlake tried to sell some "modern relationship" short stories in the mid 1960s, to no avail...rather similar, perhaps, to the 1979 Redbook novella, "Call Me a Cab"...(recorded w/o close-in mic at a talk at the Mysterious Bookshop, so rather low-volume at the source).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Television that mattered to me...

A number of television series, and even a few one-offs (or One Time Onlies as at least one clangorous publication officially dubs them) have had an important effect on me, even if it was only to entertain so adeptly that I had to marvel.

1. Children's educational television: Mr. Wizard, Romper Room, and particularly those long-haul veterans Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and Captain Kangaroo certainly helped get me hooked on the medium in my earliest did such local hosts in New England as Major Mudd and Uncle Gus (an irritable-seeming fellow in a fishing hat, sitting in front of a wall that read The Uncle Gus Show...he was out of New Hampshire, while Major Mudd was a supposed astronaut, a Boston fixture for a while). Post-Sesame Street, a number of the networks and syndicators stepped up their game, giving us Zoom, Make a Wish, Big Blue Marble, and other kid-oriented, fairly elaborate, heavily-edited and quickly-paced augment the older, slower-paced kids' shows (Hodge Podge Lodge, anyone?). Why, they even rivalled Bullwinkle, Flipper and Lassie for engagement.

2. Adult educational television: Simultaneously, there were some interesting if sometimes puzzling (The Great American Dream Machine) series rolling in that were clearly aimed at grownups, that nonetheless (particularly when about the sciences, such as Nova, the National Geographic Specials and the syndicated Time-Life Wild, Wild World of Animals), that were compelling, none moreso than Nat Geo spinoff The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. And, in 1973, the grim facts of recent world history were packaged impressively in the Granada (syndicated) UK import, The World at War--my cohort in elementary school wouldn't miss it, though my mother was concerned about my seeing the battlefield and aftermath footage, till after she tasked my father with vetting it as well (he soberly suggested that it was precisely what was needed to be said about war).

3. My mother had had similar concerns when she noted I had discovered in 1972 this oddly-named sitcom M*A*S*H, which was one of several funny and sophisticated-seeming newish series being concentrated on Saturday night, when I could stay up long enough to catch them all...she was thinking of Sally Kellerman exposed in the film, but realized that they weren't Quite going that far with the television series, even if the best first few seasons were not the most enlightened statement about feminism in television history. However, such vignettes as when after a grueling surgical session, Trapper John and Frank find themselves trying to catch quick naps on stretchers in the entryway of the surgical tent, and Frank offhandedly gives Trapper a picture of how to create a Frank Burns ("If we spoke during dinner, our father would punch us in the throat."), and how even a wiped-out Trapper has no choice but to accept that understanding...well, it left an impression. As did the other Saturday programs, which by the fall of 1975 had lost All in the Family and M*A*S*H to other days on the CBS schedule, but still could boast, at least in Northern Connecticut, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show and The Carol Burnett Show on CBS, Monty Python's Flying Circus in its first full run on the local PBS stations (syndicated by the Eastern Educational Network, which was also importing this BBC kids' show Doctor Who and a few more obscure items, such as The Goodies), and NBC's new series Saturday Night and Weekend (the latter being an excellent newsmagazine that ran every fourth week in the 11:30p slot).

4. The Really Good repeats. Quite aside from the good movies one could see, popping up here and there, there was a lot of fun old stuff that seemed to a Lot better at certain things, for example being scary, than the current shows such as Night Gallery. There were Saturday afternoon repeats of The Outer Limits on the Boston station that would follow that with The Creature Double-Feature--some of those episodes were more mind-blowing than scary, but it definitely leaned toward monsters and what one critic would term "Television Noir" when looking back from the '70s--and the Hartford station that ran Thriller, hosted by Boris Karloff--still unmatched as a showcase for decent to brilliant horror and suspense drama. There were any number of British series that were at least kind of cool, particularly The Avengers, The Forsyte Saga and this very weird thing called The Prisoner (and The Champions, which struck me as goofy even when I was a kid who could watch Land of the Lost without cringing, but it was fun).

5. The thread of genuinely good, by any reasonable standard, work through the decades...series such as The Rockford Files, Frank's Place or SCTV would stand out even if they hadn't run in very fallow times otherwise...and that the latter series ended its original run in the US on Cinemax "premium" cable was indicative of what was to happen to television, which as stations proliferated and alternatives to broadcast television did also, led to an efflorescence of rather good to brilliant television in the latest 1990s and earliest 2000s, hurt somewhat by the contraction of the networks and cable stations in the wake of the 9/11 and other Bush-era recession-drivers, in attempt to see if sophistication might work again...even the bubblegun series from that period would've tended to look remarkable by the usual standards in the early '80s (say, Witchblade or Brimstone).

In that ferment, such series as Once and Again, Homicide: Life on the Streets, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer were setting the pace for a pack of extemely sophisticated series, often dealing with subject matter that had too often been Starsky and Hutched or Kolchaked in previous series (which is to say nothing about the two excellent television movies that led up to the dismal Kolchak: The Night Stalker series). But the one which continues to impress me more than any other US dramatic series, at very least, was the nearly pitch-perfect blended family serial Once and Again, with its cast of more or less adult adults (as opposed to, say, the superannuated teens of Mad Men or even most of the best sitcoms) and their well-drawn children, coping as best they might with the aftermath of two marriages that end in divorce, and the romance between two of the divorced parents and how this affects the lives of everyone around them. And, eventually, even how it doesn't affect the others' lives, as those lives are sketched in with sufficiently complexity of their own. Excellent cast, writing and production...the pinnacle, so far, of the work of the Herskowitz/Zwick team who had previously been responsible for the series, each better than the last, Thirtysomething, My So-Called Life, and Relativity, and who would go on to the pleasant but relativelty minor web series experiment quarterlife.

Really, just a smashing series. I miss it.

(This in response to another Patti Abbott challenge, to write up one of television series that had a lasting effect or least left an impression on one.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: ELLERY QUEEN'S ANTHOLOGY, SHORT STORY INTERNATIONAL, MAGAZINE OF HORROR, and other reprint magazines/"bookazines"

There are so many magazines that have done interesting things in being devoted to reprints from other sources...these three are among those most important to my reading experience, and at least two of them are among those magazines which help blur the lines, for some at least, between books and magazines.

Short Story International had a brief run in the mid-'60s (1963-66), then came back in the latter '70s with rather more expensive production values (and briefly a companion magazine aimed at kids), a run which managed to continue through the next two decades (though it dropped off newsstands after the early '80s). The concept was the same in both iterations; to reprint stories, and occasionally to commission new translations though usually to reprint its translated stories as well as the ones published originally in English, in the interests of both presenting an interesting array of reading and encouraging international understanding. Sometimes this could make the magazine feel a bit Improving, but generally editors Francesca Van der Ling (first version) and Sylvia Tankel (second) managed to select a good range of work, much of which would be otherwise almost certainly overlooked in the US (and some of the US selections were rather amusing choices, as well, including a reprint of a [Ms.] Sam Nicholson story from fellow US digest-sized magazine Analog; another of similar vintage was Woody Allen's "The Kugelmass Episode," which had already been reprinted from The New Yorker by that ofther fellow US digest The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.) After John Groth's death, they never replaced him as their sole illustrator, and so the covers went over to typeface only. Gibraltar's own E. G. Chipulina was a particular favorite of the magazine, and I certainly enjoyed his stories.

Ellery Queen's Anthology was the big, sloppy reprint cousin of the rather sloppily-produced Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine of the first decade and change of Davis Publications' ownership of the latter magazine (the earlier issues, from Mercury Press, were rather more elegantly produced, and when Joel Davis took over Davis from his father, founder and Ziff-Davis refugee B.G. Davis, EQMM and EQA started to look rather less slapdash again). These productions, which were also published in hardcover by Dial Press and others, were both great ways for Frederic Dannay and company to reprint novellas and short novels that had fallen into obscurity, but also to reprint shorter stories from EQMM, which itself continued to offer classics and obscurities as it pleased Dannay (but far less frequently than in the early years at Mercury). When Davis Pubs. acquired Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and Analog, and founded Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, they too soon had fat "Anthology" reprint companions on the newsstands in the EQA model (though as time went on, the magazine versions started to take on rather more indivuated titles for each issue, and some were mixes of reprints from the two CF and two SF magazines, rather like the books they were producing simultaneously).

The Magazine of Horror was a small-circulation but doughty magazine that ran for most of the '60s and into the earliest '70s, as the primary market to carry the "horror" banner, even while F&SF and Fantastic for most of those years were also fine sources for the fiction, but didn't advertise as obviously (Joseph Payne Brennan's little magazine Macabre also made its way through the decade, but not on newsstands). Put together on almost no budget by editor Robert Lowndes, who had taken on a job at the small publisher Health Knowledge after the collapse of the Columbia magazine line in 1960 (where Lowndes had been editing some of the last pulp magazines, on a slightly larger microbudget, and introducing such writers as Edward Hoch and Carol Emshwiller to the reading public), MOH was the first and ultimately the last of the fiction magazines published by them at his suggestion (among the other titles he also edited for HK included Famous Science Fiction and Worldwide Adventure; MOH's very similar stablemate Startling Mystery Stories was the first to publish F. Paul Wilson and Stephen King, in its tendency to offer new fiction by young writers along with the reprints from famous and obscure older contributors). Hoch published some of his Simon Ark stories with MOH, Ramsey Campbell offered some of his first non-Lovecraftian work there, Joanna Russ and Roger Zelazny placed such notable stories as "Come Closer" and "Divine Madness" (respectively) with the magazine, and I'm sure not too many periodicals have offered the reading public stories by Robert Bloch, John Steinbeck, and Seabury Quinn simultaneously.

For more of Friday's Books, please see Patti Abbott's blog for the rundown of contributors.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: LIVING IN FEAR: A HISTORY OF HORROR IN THE MASS MEDIA by Les Daniels (Scribner's, 1975)

from a 1995 interview with Daniels for Tabula Rasa:

Kyla Ward for TR: Just touching on the other non-fiction book, Fear --

Les Daniels: AKA Living in Fear --

TR: "A History of Horror in the Mass Media."

LD: This followed the first book on comics [Comix, 1971], and once again was based on the fact this was something I was interested in. In a way it's dated and superceded now, there were fairly few books even on horror films back then; but what makes it more unique now is that in addition to discussing most of the significant English-language horror films made up till that time, it also tried to deal with the literature, going back to the Gothic novel and so on. I tried to cover so much ground that there's usually only a couple of sentences about anything that I mentioned, and so much written since that in a way it's superficial.

TR: And it also includes certain stories --

LD: It's partially an anthology.

TR: -- you printed Arthur Machen's "The Novel of the White Powder." Thank you.

LD: Well, it's important to me. At that period, I think the concept of the tradition and what had gone before was almost the basis of horror and was of interest to horror writers and people who made horror films; there has been a tremendous leap, it was almost as though I wrote that book at the appropriate time, because since then there has been a big jump in horror in terms of its wide promulgation and acceptance, and at the same time there has been a tremendous difference in the content.

Living in Fear was the first book about (as well as in small part collecting) horror that I encountered, and as a survey it was an excellent indicator that there was a wide world of material awaiting me of which I had only picked up on a small segment so far...albeit with the anthologies and comics I was reading and the Thriller television series playing in repeats locally in Connecticut (even as repeats of the first The Outer Limits series had brightened noirishly my Saturday afternoons in the Boston suburbs a few years before), and the infrequent good films I could see in theaters (tv averaged better, even with all the damned commercials and the cuts in some of the films, at least as often for more commercials...the rare horror film on the PBS stations were a particular treat), I was already aware of quite a range of work.

Daniels, an independent scholar with a continuing love for horror (and a novelist, beginning in the next decade), didn't produce an impeccably researched book, and even I as a ten year old could spot an error or two (he referred to Gene Roddenberry's nonextistant work on The Outer Limits, for example), but the stories recounted and described (of the developement of horror as a field of literature and in related media) and the actual fiction collected in the coffee-table book were often excellent, as well as excellent nudges. As an anthology, others were more important to me, but as a key to the highway...

Certainly Stephen King's Danse Macabre and others which followed Living in Fear never would have such an impact for me, even when written by such well-informed and reflective artists as Ransey Campbell...even now, very few have attempted to match the scope of this one. (Though, for example, E. F. Bleiler's works, among them the first edition of Supernatural Fiction Writers, are always worth the look...even if a look in son Richard Bleiler's 2002 second edition of that compendium would provide one with, among better and worse contributions, an example of my own bit of survey, on Joyce Carol Oates and, in passing, Kate Wilhelm.)

Please see Patti Abbott's blog for further Friday books citations.

Friday, November 6, 2009

FFB: ARGYLL: A MEMOIR by Theodore Sturgeon (The Sturgeon Project 1993)

from Eric Weeks's fine pages on Sturgeon, perhaps using Contento Index data or just in the same format.

Argyll: A Memoir (The Sturgeon Project 0-934558-16-7, July 1993, $10.00, 79pp, ph) Collection of Sturgeon material, including an autobiographical essay about his relationship with his stepfather, a letter to his mother and stepfather, an introduction by Paul Williams, and an afterword by Samuel R. Delany. All proceeds after cost go toward the projected publication costs for Sturgeon’s collected stories.
5 • Introduction• Paul Williams • fw *
7 • Argyll: A Memoir • • bi *
60 • A Letter to his Mother and Stepfather • • lt *
77 • Afterward • Samuel R. Delany • aw *

This was the kickoff (and a sort of fundraiser) for the Sturgeon Project, an attempt by Paul Williams, the founder of Crawdaddy magazine and the person most responsible, after Dick himself, for Philip Dick's current literary reputation...Blade Runner might've gotten made without Williams's earlier advocacy for Dick, most visibly in the pages of Rolling Stone (I believe after Williams sold Crawdaddy to another publisher), but I doubt nearly as much would've been made of it being loosely based on a Dick novel...nor would Dick have published one of his last stories in a 1979 Rolling Stone special issue, bringing his work directly to a much larger audience than it usually saw. Having put together a complete collection of Dick's short fiction (and having helped see most of Dick's unpublished novels finally into print), Williams took on, with North Atlantic Press, a new get all the short fiction of Theodore Sturgeon into a uniform multivolume set. This chapbook was also an announcement of that project, a previously unpublished novella-length memoir by Sturgeon of his early life, and the stepfather who was instrumental in his transformation from E. Hamilton Waldo to Theodore Sturgeon...and not by any means all benevolently instrumental.

The most recent and apparently penultimate volume in the Sturgeon Project, Slow Sculpture, has just been published, and this the first with most of the nonfictional content (story notes, etc.) not the work of Paul Williams, who has been suffering with rather early Alzheimer's brought on in the wake of a horrible accident...he fell and struck his head severely while bicycling. His wife, musician Cindy Lee Berryhill, has been blogging about their experiences in these declining days for Williams, and Noel Sturgeon has stepped in to provide the supplementary material for this volume and the next. While anyone with a copy of the 1971 volume Sturgeon Is Alive and Well... has most of the fiction content of Slow Sculpture, that book has been out of print for a lot of years and this one included a previously-unpublished story, and the novella "The [Widget], the [Wadget], and Boff" (which was half of a Tor Double volume some years back, in that shortlived series), and also a story from the National Lampoon, also reprinted previously on its own.

The story around the publication of this chapbook and the collections it heralded is thus almost as compelling as much of the fiction in those collections, much of it among the best work published in the field of fantastic fiction, and at least good work in several other fields, as Sturgeon was a fine western writer, and wrote some decent crime fiction (including ghosting for "Ellery Queen"). Several contemporary mimetic stories, sometimes with some fantastic dressing to get them into a fantasy magazine "legitimately," are collected in the series as well...including such famous items as "A Saucer of Loneliness" and the mid-'50s Best American Short Stories inclusion "The Man Who Lost the Sea."

Sturgeon, as Kurt Vonnegut would agree (his "Kilgore Trout" is at least as much a satirical portrait of Sturgeon as of himself), even as Samuel Delany does in the afterword here, is precisely the kind of writer whom I was thinking of in my recent explication, on Patti Abbott's blog, of why the blithe construction "literary and genre fiction" (meaning two very different, even oppositional, things) is not only ignorant but pernicious, helping keep some of the best art we have from its natural audience.

Please see Patti Abbott's blog for other "Forgotten" books for this week.