Friday, July 23, 2010

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: SUPERHORROR (aka THE FAR REACHES OF FEAR) edited by Ramsey Campbell; THE MOON'S WIFE (wt: SIGGY LINDO) by A. A. Attanasio

Superhorror (published by W.H. Allen in 1976), as the slim anthology was titled in its original UK edition (the 1980 UK paperback takes the other title), includes the following stories, all original to it:

Brian Lumley - The Viaduct
R. A. Lafferty - Fog In My Throat
Daphne Castell - Christina
Joseph F. Pumilia - The Case Of James Elmo Freebish
David Drake - The Hunting Ground
Manley Wade Wellman - The Petey Car
Robert Aickman - Wood
Ramsey Campbell - The Pattern
Fritz Leiber - Dark Wings

I picked up my remaindered copy of the 1977 St. Martin's Press US hardcover, with the Donald Grant cover above carried over from the Allen edition, in 1979 or '80 in one of the Hawaiian chain of department stores, Liberty House.

What Al Attanasio had been writing for several years under the working title, for his protagonist, Siggy Lindo, was published in a much truncated form as The Moon's Wife, which does describe her predicament, by HarperCollins in 1993. The acquiring editor who'd bought the fat novel, which if Al didn't think of as his magnum opus it was one particularly close to his heart, left HC, and the new editor, as I recall from Al's account, not only didn't care for Not Invented Here but, I gathered, also chose to be offended that Al as a male writer would dare to write a novel about a female protagonist who could be seen as delusional, and indeed is by other characters in the romantic fantasy about a woman who learns that she is to literally become the Moon's wife, soulmate of its spirit. So, since this was published well after the initial splash of Attanasio's debut novel Radix, a genuinely international bestseller, and before the Arthor series began riding the UK charts, the editor demanded and got a severe edit that reduced the novel to a fraction of its original length. The book got zero support, zero attention, nearly zero sales and saw only the original hardcover edition in the States...Al's success in the UK led to the paperback reprint pictured above. Even truncated, it remains a charming and elegant work, in some ways my favorite of Attanasio's and still demonstrative of the joy he took in writing it in its original form, that probably could more easily find an audience today than it could seventeen years ago, when publishers weren't too certain how to market Richard Matheson's paranormal romances, either. My copy is the one that Al sent along from his stash of promotional copies.

Meanwhile, the Campbell, the first anthology he would edit, is an impressive start by any measure...with most of the contributors demonstrating why they were already masters of the form, and the major flaw as far as it goes being a lack of female contributors...but the biggest surprises in the book would not be that Leiber or Aickman or Wellman or even the then still relatively young Drake, and Castell and Campbell himself, would provide impressive work, but that Brian Lumley's suspense story, like all his work carrying a touch of the Boy's Adventure Tale about it but also like most of his non-Lovecraftian work far superior to the (sustainedly popular) Necroscope kludges, would be a fine and brutal story of retribution; Joseph Pumilia's rather grimly jokey homage to EC horror comics was an early example of that sort of thing in prose, and a good one; and then there's R. A. Lafferty's story. It was no secret that Lafferty was brilliant and eccentric, and often veered close to out-and-out horror in much of his previous fiction, but only rarely nudged any given work firmly into the field...but "Fog in My Throat" takes on the very soul of horror, the knowledge that we will be extinct and how we cope with this, and succinctly and forefully tells us how and why we'd best not try to fiddle with our self-delusional defense mechanisms in dealing with that. From a devoutly Catholic man, well along in years and not in the greatest of health at the time, it's a brilliant story that carries every sort of conviction with its wit, invention and compassion, and I've remembered it more clearly than any other in this book over the decades.

And, of course, it's been reprinted exactly once, as far as I can tell, in a small-press collection of Lafferty's short work.

For more of Friday's "Forgotten" Books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I have read a few of Ramsey Campbell's books. And yesterday I read a short story about a woman who follows a river of bees. Great atmosphere even if the ending let me down.

George said...

Like Patti, I've read a few of Ramsey Campbell's books. I really like the cover on SUPERHORROR. And, any collection that has an R. A. Lafferty story in it is worth reading.

Todd Mason said...

Any collection with most of the contributors to SUPERHORROR in it is usually worh the look, at least to their extent. Don't know that particular short story, Patti...but, indeed, Campbell and Dennis Etchison were among my first favorite writers in horror and related fiction among those who began their careers in the 1960s...and both have had impressive editorial careers, as well.

K. A. Laity said...

I love Campbell. He usually has good choices as an editor as well, which often isn't the case (she says having just come back from a conference that always reminds me of that). "The Pattern" doesn't ring a bell: I'll have to get out my Campbell short story collection. Need a little jolt.

Todd Mason said...

For a while, Campbell was a real star of Tor's line, not racking up the kind of sales that Clive Barker or Poppy Brite were achieving, but close enough.

Campbell persists, an avuncular columnist for VIDEO WATCHDOG and probably others...I should check into that...his "Ramsey Campbell, Probably" was a fixture of the nonfiction review NECROFILE during its run, and has been collected.

Attanasio, whom I'm out of touch with, had been having a bit of a publishing trough again, despite two recent books (KILLING WITH THE EDGE OF THE MOON and THE CONJURE BOOK) and just before that, editing his first anthology, of fiction about the J.O. Barr comics and film/tv character The Crow...he, too, becoming more horror-fiction identified, after gaining his first success with sf and his second great commercial period with historical fantasy.