Friday, January 8, 2010

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: STURGEON'S WEST by Theodore Sturgeon and Don Ward

From the Contento index:

Sturgeon’s West Theodore Sturgeon & Don Ward (Doubleday, 1973, hc)
· Ted Sturgeon’s Western Adventure · Don Ward · in
· Well Spiced · Theodore Sturgeon · ss Zane Grey’s Western Magazine Feb ’48
· Scars · Theodore Sturgeon · ss Zane Grey’s Western Magazine May ’49
· Cactus Dance · Theodore Sturgeon · nv Luke Short’s Western Magazine Oct/Dec ’54
· The Waiting Thing Inside · ss EQMM Sep ’56
· The Man Who Figured Everything · nv EQMM Jan ’60
· Ride In, Ride Out · nv *
· The Sheriff of Chayute · ss *

Theodore Sturgeon, often in collaboration with Zane Grey's Western Magazine editor Don Ward (in the open in contributions to other magazines, and perhaps in the usual editorial interplay at ZGWM), wrote a series of western stories initially for that fine digest (Zane Grey seems to have been the National Geographic of western fiction judge by the eBay population, no one seems ever to have thrown them away...though the issues that Didn't run a usually truncated Grey reprint were the better ones--I have a late one with a much superior Cliff Farrell novella where the Grey mass would otherwise martyr trees). The shortlived Luke Short magazine took one, and as one sees above, they apparently couldn't place two of them before this book was released (though I should go back to check the Sturgeon Project volumes about that). "Cactus Dance" deals with, shall we say, altered perception; "Scars," among other things, deals with the vagaries of love and affection in a typically Sturgeonish way (and these two were the only stories here included previously in Sturgeon's fantastic-fiction collections, despite having no blatantly fantasticated elements to them).

As with the other sorts of fiction that Sturgeon tackled, the empathy and clear-eyed analysis of the many ways we can betray and unexepectedly support each other are all over these pages...I'm not sure how much Ward, who might not've produced any solo fiction, contributed, but the collaborations certainly read like Sturgeon.

(And it should be noted that the digest-sized Zane Grey Western was published by Dell in the '40s and '50s, and the title was revived by Leo Margulies's Renown Publications at the end of the '60s for a few years as a US standard-sized "bedsheet" magazine, with lead novelets attributed to ZG's son but ghosted, as with other Renown magazines, by a roster of folks including in this case Bill Pronzini...none of which is likely to be confused with the later Dell Magazines project, after they bought the Davis fiction group including EQMM, Louis L'Amour Western Magazine, which also was a notable market for Pronzini among others....)

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


George said...

I'm pretty sure these stories made their way into the North Atlantic Books series of Sturgeon's complete short stories.

Evan Lewis said...

Wow. Never heard of Sturgeon's westerns. Very cool.

Todd Mason said...

George: Yup. But aside from the two, they didn't appear in the fantasticated collections..."Scars" in E PLURIBUS UNICORN and "Cactus Dance" in ALIENS 4. And STURGEON'S WEST predated the Sturgeon Project books by two decades.

Evan: They are very cool, indeed. I wish I'd had more time to review and write about them's been a while since I read the book, and it's probably a pity we don't have more sf/fantasy/western crossover, given how similar the forms are, and how good those who are amphibians (Lee Hoffman, Richard Matheson, Bill Pronzini, Joe Lansdale, James Reasoner, Neal Barrett, to name a few off the top) can be.

David Cranmer said...

I lucked out in Maine last year and stumbled on a tiny bookstore with tons of Zane Grey western magazines.

Sturgeon has been a long favorite but like Evan was unaware of the westerns.

C. Margery Kempe said...

I'll have to admit that I, too, had no idea that Sturgeon wrote Westerns. We've adapted so completely to the niching of our lives (and writing). Sigh. Cross genres at your own risk. It's all about the "branding"! That Sturgeon guy would ha' learned that if he lived now. Thank goodness he didn't.

Todd Mason said...

Kate: In the '40s and '50s, it was more like, cross categories if you like to eat...because while there were enough sf magazines, for example, briefly in the '50s to keep someone afloat, that was a very brief period indeed. Meanwhile, today, the major villains in hostility toward diverse writers are the chain bookstores, who are quite certain that no one wants to read someone's contemporary mimetic novel if they are primarily known for romance, until it's proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that readers do (as they usually do). Publishers and such cater to them...this quite aside from the delightful practice of Ordering to the Net, so that the stores/chains only order the same amount of the new book as they sold (not ordered) of the last one.

David: I don't like Grey's fiction much, but at least the later issues did away with it, and the early ones tended to abridge it...but the new stories in a given issue do tend to be rather good.

Anonymous said...

Just got back from a dude ranch vacation in southern Colorado where I came across this book in the lodge library. Being a long-ago fan of TS I picked it up to read in our cabin. Wonderful stories with some of the typical Sturgeon touches (repressed homosexuality; fantastical, almost magical realism descriptions, etc) as well as idiosycratic western dialogue conventions ("I cain't"). Didn't quite finish the book, and was sorely tempted to steal the book when I left but didn't. Found this site while googling, looking for a copy. Truly a forgotten gem.
Bill H.