Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My own late Overlooked Film/Other A/V item(s) for this week...NOBODY WAVED GOOD-BYE and MORT DIGS HORROR

But I don't have time to write up Nobody Waved Good-Bye the way I'd like tonight, any more than I've had time to review it (after decades)...but this entry will be revisited! (And since on some browsers the National Film Board window can't be expanded properly, I've added the link to the film page on the title...)

Meanwhile, independent film and radio writer/director/and more David Schmidt has set up a web series which recommends the overlooked among horror films, Mort Digs Horror:

Tuesday's Overlooked Films and/or Other A/V: a few added reviews

Thanks as always to all contributors and to you readers...

Bill Crider: Cotton Comes to Harlem (trailer)

Brian Arnold: An American Christmas Carol

Chuck Esola: Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation

Dan Stumpf: Deadlier than the Male (Bulldog Drummond) (1967)

Eric Peterson: Rolling Thunder

George Kelley: Sigur Ros: Inni

Iba Dawson: Center Stage; The Company (2003)

Jack Seabrook: "The Cuckoo Clock" (Robert Bloch on Alfred Hitchcock Presents:)

James Reasoner: Only Angels Have Wings

Jeff Segal: Hallowe'en Marathon viewing (slightly delayed)

Jerry House: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

John Charles: The Dirty Game (1965)

Juri Nummelin: The Sadist (1963)

Michael Shonk: Charlie Wild, Private Detective

Mike Tooney: "Knife in the Darkness" (Harlan Ellison's Jack the Ripper script) Cimarron Strip; "The Mind Reader" (The Rifleman)

Patti Abbott: The L-Shaped Room
Pearce Duncan: Warlock (1989)

Philip Schweier: The Mr. Wong films

R. Emmett Sweeney (courtesy Ed Gorman): Runaway Daughters (1994)

Randy Johnson: Little Chenier: A Cajun Story

Ron Scheer: Meek’s Cutoff

Scott Cupp: Destroy All Planets

Sergio Angelini: Taste of Fear (aka Scream of Fear)

Stacia Jones: The Phantom Creeps, Chapter 5

Steve Lewis: Assassin for Hire; Criminal Investigator; Time Lock

Todd Mason: Nobody Waved Good-Bye; Mort Digs Horror

Yvette Banek: Bite the Bullet

Related Matters:

Brent McKee: You Deserve This

Prashant Trikannad: In the Heat of the Night (1968)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: 54.40 Edition (O Canada and other Pioneers)

This the link list for this holiday week, featuring at least a few choices that emphasized Canadian writers and their work (even as FFB founder and usual host Patti Abbott is escaping Canadian proximity for some time in Arizona, though not New Mexico to solidly pound in the irony--as it turns out, this trip is upcoming, and the ducking out was simply to NY this go 'round). If I've missed your review, please let me know in comments, and I'll happily add it...and apologies!
Patti Abbott will be hosting the links again next week.

Patti Abbott: Depth Rapture by Carol Bruneau

Sergio Angelini: Necessary Evil by Kelley Roos

Yvette Banek: Salamander by J. Robert Janes

Joe Barone: Merry, Merry Ghost by Carolyn Hart

Brian Busby: The Hidden Places by Bertrand W. Sinclair

Bill Crider: D'Shai by Joel Rosenberg

Deb: Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen

Martin Edwards: Tour De Force by Christianna Brand

Ed Gorman: The Last Match by David Dodge (please see below) Original version

Jerry House: What's Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies

Randy Johnson: Suspicious Circumstances by Sandra Ruttan

George Kelley: Tempest-Tost by Robertson Davies

Richard & Karen La Porte: The Gathering Place by Jon Breen

B. V. Lawson: Fool's Gold by Ted Wood

Steve Lewis: A Real Gone Guy by Frank Kane

Todd Mason: The Ways We Live Now: Contemporary Short Fiction from the Ontario Review edited by Raymond Smith; review delayed by reviewer cleverly hiding the book from himself shortly after beginning it.

Kent Morgan: The Kate Henry Series by Alison Gordon

John F. Norris: Novels by Frank L. Packard

Juri Nummelin: The Flagellator by "Carter Brown"

Richard Pangburn: "Horseman" by Richard Russo

Eric Peterson: Ill Wind by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason

James Reasoner: The Master of Dragons by H. Bedford-Jones

Karyn Reeves: Our Hearts were Young and Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner & Emily Kimbrough

L. J. Roberts: The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall

Richard Robinson: Never Cry Wolf and And No Birds Sang by Farley Mowat

Gerald Saylor: Black Fly Season by Giles Blunt

Ron Scheer: Smith and Other Events: Tales of the Chilcotin by Paul St. Pierre

Kerrie Smith: A Landscape of Lies by Peter Watson

Charlie Stella: Let It Ride by John McFetridge

TomCat: St. Peter's Finger by Gladys Mitchell

Mike Tooney: The Best of Ellery Queen by "Ellery Queen" (edited by Francis Nevins and Martin Harry Greenberg)

Prashant Trikkanad: The Big Fisherman by Lloyd C. Douglas and Upon This Rock by Frank G. Slaughter

John W: Look Behind You, Lady by A.S. Fleischman

...and, Pre-emptively: Doug Levin: The Adjustment by Scott Phillips

Ed Gorman:
The Last Match by David Dodge
Dictionary: The word “picaresque” is taken from a form of satirical prose originating in Spain, depicting realistically and often humorously the adventures of a low-born, roguish hero living by his/her wits in a corrupt society.
This is the only word I can find to adequately describe The Last Match by David Dodge, a 2006 Hard Case Crime presentation. In a winningly cynical voice, a young swindler tells us all about working scams in places as far flung as Cannes, Tangiers and Lima, among others. He is particularly deft with women.
Good to remember that Dodge was also a travel writer of considerable note, so the backdrops here are almost as vivid as the characters, who are mostly low-borns working their way downward reeking of sweat, booze and occasionally blood.
Dodge hangs a good deal of his tale on the romance between Curly and a fetching young woman of British royalty named Regina. She, unlike most other humans who trod the earth, seems to feel that Curly’s soul is worth saving and she attacks this task with almost saintly (and sexy) determination.
I didn’t care much about the story, but was won over completely by the high style of the prose, the incorrigible personality of the narrator and the unending list of badasses who appear along the various map points. This has the feel of a memoir rather than a novel, and that makes it all the more realistic.
I think you’d have to say that Dodge – who wrote this novel sometime in the early ’70s even though this is its first publication – didn’t have much interest in the usual tropes of genre thriller fiction. Graceful and sardonic writing seem his biggest fascination, a true world view with some gunfights, fist fights and bad ladies thrown in every once in a while to honor pulp expectations. I should note here that early in the first chapter, Dodge struts his stuff, introducing us to an attractive and appealing middle-aged woman who is using him as her current boy-toy. You know you’re in the hands of a real writer when Dodge makes us like and even respect the woman. Not a cliché in sight. I knew right off I’d like book just because of its opening chapter.
His daughter Kendal Dodge Butler provides a loving, even endearing afterword about her father. He seems to be about what I expected: a man who had his darkest adventures early on and then settled into a respectable middle-aged family life that allowed him the leisure and luxury to pursue his writing where he got to polish up some of those old adventures and display his wide knowledge of cons and scams.
–Ed Gorman

Thursday, November 24, 2011

November's Music: Comedy songs for a Blue T-day

My father remembered a version of this one from his childhood (I've found a number of people remember extra or improvised verses to this one), though I suspect he learned his "Ain't We Crazy" from the older, second recording below:

Constant readers here know I'm a lifelong Smothers Bros. fan, due in part to receiving Aesop's Fables the Smothers Brothers Way as a one of my first records to play on my portable phonograph ca. 1968...no tracks from that album are easily swipable, but this charming medley, with Donovan Leitch and Peter, Paul & Mary, from the Smo Bro CBS series, is worth the time:

And, being as I was a child of the mid-'60s, my first babysitters, at least, made sure I heard and saw the Monkees:

Which of course set me up for appreciation of the likes of the Kinks

Or the Zombies (even if this ragged copy of "Come on Time" as messed with and worked into a trailer for Bunny Lake is Missing kills most of the the humor of the "Just Out of Reach" reworking the band did...see the fine Big Beat-label complete Zombies recordings set to hear how "Come on Time" should sound.)

And Utopia

And the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band

(and if you've missed it somehow over the years...George Harrison on Rutland Weekend Television, which might or might not've directly led to Bonzos and Pythons forming the Rutles)

And Gil Scott-Heron

Not actually one of Mose Allison's wittiest songs, but in a similar mode:

As opposed to this live reading of his classic:

And a nice, if slightly long, a cappella version:

And speaking of classics:

Nellie McKay:

Garfunkel and Oates (note the climbing budgets)

And for a genuine T-day song, Howard Kremer as Dragon Boy Suede:

(and another rap from DBS in the spirit of giving and appreciation)

Happy Thanksgiving, folks...
For more of this month's forgotten music, see the links at Scott Parker's blog.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Films and/or Other A/V: the links

Thanks as always to all contributors and readers...and we have at least a few new contributors this week. And I suspect we'll see a few more links over the course of the day. Happy Thanksgiving, USians (Canadian Thanksgiving is on a different day), in the event I don't post again before Thursday...and Friday will be the links list for Friday's "Forgotten" Books, with a Canadian emphasis...be there or be post-US T-day w/o FFB...and wouldn't that be a sad state?

Todd Mason: Sins of the Fleshapoids (please see below)

Related matters: 

Todd Mason: 
Sins of the Fleshapoids is a 43-minute film first presented in 1966, which was shot in several people's houses or apartments on the tiniest of budgets...such indy poor-mouthers as El Mariachi (Robert Rodriguez's first film to see commercial release) or even such student films as the first (terrible) version of THX-1138, had budgets many multiples of the outlay for this, essentially a silent film with music and narration and (!) drawn-in dialog balloons (and a bit of faked monolog--moaning--at the end, as a character gives birth), shot on 8mm Kodachrome stock (as auteur Mike Kuchar notes, Kodachrome has the kind of saturated colors that help make this film stand out--though similar, if higher-budget no-budget films such as The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies also have similar saturation, while shot on more typically professional stock, by a crew in this case including Vilmos Zsigmond and László Kovács...both using pseudonyms. What Kuchar doesn't mention, but what is just as obvious, is the red tinge that Kodachrome tends to take on.) Mike and George Kuchar, who co-directed many short home-movie style camp melodramas and films that come up to the edge of "acceptable" or at least non-actionable sexploitation in their day (starting in 1957), split up as co-directors for this one, with George taking a key acting role instead (they had both tended to appear in all their previous work, as well), though apparently the scene where Donna Berness admires herself in a mirror, while wearing some of the most ridiculous pasties devised for the screen, was directed by George. This is very intentional camp, and some of it is actually funny...it mocks, affectionately, the kind of earnest no-budget sf film prevalent in the first half of the 1960s, including its perhaps most direct inspiration, Creation of the Humanoids (1962), a very poor ripoff of Jack Williamson's novel The Humanoids (1948), and the kinds of films that litter the cv of such "talents" as Arthur C. Pierce (Women of the Prehistoric Planet, Dimension 5 [which seemed extravagant to the British distributors, so they retitled it Dimension Four], The Navy vs. the Night Monsters etc.). Set "a million years in the future!" in a world where humans supposedly shun technology except for the humanoid robot slaves called "fleshapoids," the beefcake antihero tears into a Clark Bar and then into a bag of Wise potato chips, after finishing his ice-cream cone. Later, to flee with his paramour from the castle of her husband, the prince, they dress him in a football uniform complete with pads and laced pants. Relatively few fetishes involving clothes that can be packed into such a short (and "futuristic") film are overlooked, including a female fleshapoid with gartered stockings; while much of the film is intentionally terrible, some of the shot compositions are actually pretty handsome, even striking, and the spirit of the film is certainly the odd mixture of artistic striving and put-on goofiness that is a somewhat more self-conscious version of what Ed Wood or Phil Tucker were doing before the Kuchars, and what contemporaries such as Andy Warhol and his collaborators and such other no-budget campers as Andy Milligan were attempting (only Milligan seems simply inept in comparison, Warhol unwilling to take nearly anything about such work seriously); John Waters consistently notes how important this film was in molding his esthetic, and certainly such others as Anna Biller almost certainly owe the Kuchars, if not specifically this film, a debt. Ripping off Howard Hanson's music for the soundtrack, behind the narration, is simply good taste, if (probably at least at first) theft. Here is the film in its entirety.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

FFB: YOU'RE ALL ALONE by Fritz Leiber (also published as THE SINFUL ONES) (and a consideration of other 1950 magazine fantastic-fiction)

You're All Alone is the second of Fritz Leiber's three (essentially) no-bones-about-it horror novels (all of them also noirish novels of social observation with considerable philosophical underpinning and literary innovation running throughout, as these are Fritz Leiber novels with him working at the top of his form, and this one perhaps necessarily the most noirish of the trio); it, in its apparently original form (though it might've been trimmed down to long-novella wordcount), was first published in Fantastic Adventures magazine for July 1950.

(Very Long Digression: I took a quick spin through the contents of the fantasy/sf/horror-fiction magazines of 1950, after I decided to write about the Leiber, one of a number of fairly to very important novels to be published in the magazines in that year...the year after Street and Smith folded or sold all their fiction magazines except Astounding Science Fiction [and I suspect they kept that one mostly because they wanted to keep its editor around to edit the aviation and technology magazine they kept launching, folding and relaunching in those years to no sustained success], so such major pulp titles as Detective Story, Western Story, Love Story, Doc Savage and The Shadow bit the dust [or at least the pulp-paper confetti, which Kurt Vonnegut compared to dandruff]. Perhaps that contraction of the market, or other factors, not least that nearly all the fantastic-fiction magazines were being edited by reasonably talented to brilliant editors in 1950, meant that every damned magazine extant in the field in that year had some serious bragging rights, from the ridiculously successful Galaxy [in the black financially after three issues, in fact already apparently with the largest circulation in the field, and fiction including Leiber's "Coming Attraction" and Clifford Simak's novel Time and Again, under the magazine's title "Time Quarry," didn't hurt] to the barely-eking-out little magazine Fantasy Book, which offered, in the first of two issues in 1950, a lead story by Isaac Asimov and Frederik Pohl, stories by (promising] Alfred Coppel and [old hand and star of the 1930s] Stanton Coblentz and [reliable pulpster] Basil Wells and, mixed in the middle there, "Scanners Live in Vain" by Cordwainer Smith. John D. MacDonald had stories all over Thrilling Wonder Stories and Startling Stories, including the novel Wine of the Dreamers, along with Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Margaret St. Clair and other major and emerging players...Leigh Brackett and Poul Anderson and Bradbury were featured in Planet Stories [of course] and Bradbury and Robert Bloch and St. Clair and Manly Wade Wellman were prominent in Weird Tales [also of course] and those folks were also in the new Avon Fantasy Reader and/or the newer The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, in the latter along with some more crime-fiction amphibians such as Elizabeth Sanxay Holding, Miriam Allen de Ford, and Robert Arthur, and this new kid Richard Matheson's first story; an early Matheson story also appeared in Damon Knight's shortlived but impressive 1950 launch Worlds Beyond, despite the stereotype of Knight as a destroyer of Matheson love. L. Ron Hubbard was pretty visible in several magazines, though only Astounding was publishing Dianetics articles by him, while Amazing, now edited by Howard Browne with help from Lila Shaffer and William Hamling, had dumped the comparably enervating "Shaver Mystery" quasi-mystical paranoia fiction--and they moved with former Amazing editor Ray Palmer to his new magazine Other Worlds...but OW also published Gustav Meyrink, Clarke, Bradbury, and others, including the classic Eric Frank Russell (as Richard Moore reminds me) story "Dear Devil". While Amazing remained filled mostly with minor stories, albeit some by Bloch, William McGivern, Simak, and Leiber were better, its companion Fantastic Adventures also featured Theodore Sturgeon's novel The Dreaming Jewels and frequently other more impressive work by Bloch, Simak, McGivern, Philip "William Tenn" Klass and others.

Even the slightest magazines were often readable, and frequently surprising. It's small wonder that the number of titles would briefly but eventually double over the next few years, before the great winnowing by decade's end. And end of digression.)

You're All Alone was originally meant to follow Leiber's first novel Conjure Wife, and such major short fiction as "Smoke Ghost" and his first published sword & sorcery fiction, into the pages of Unknown Fantasy Fiction magazine, but when that magazine folded in 1943, Leiber set the unfinished manuscript aside. It is a delightfully paranoid story, in which the protagonist finds himself dragged out of the clockwork existence he and the vast majority of people are a part of, through an encounter with a terrified and furtive young woman who is trying her best to avoid the murderous gang of other escapees (not Leiber's term) from the automaton existence who are pursuing her. Certainly The Matrix is only the most obvious later elaboration of a similar trope, only there is no conspiracy of evil computers behind the illusory existence here, nor even the kind of Lovecraftian Old Ones the younger Leiber might've been tempted to employ, but instead simply the cold, empty way of the universe...where those who have broken free from going through the motions of life are a very small group, scattered thinly, indeed, and some are very jealous of that freedom (and ability to exploit those still trapped in the clockwork). The rest of the novel involves the man and the woman attempting to come to grips with their status in relation to the grand machine of the universe, and to escape the murderous ones. Some of the setpieces in the story, such as the protagonist's attempt to talk to his wife, who quickly reveals herself to be responding in a conversation he might've been having with her if he hadn't been "pulled out" rather than in the increasingly desperate conversation he is actually having with her, are resonant (the alienation metaphor is deftly employed) and memorable. And, of course, noir fans, not only are the villains out to get our heroes, but (of course) the very nature of the world is, as well.

This short novel had to wait several more years before being accepted for publication in book form, and then the offer came from erotica-oriented Beacon Books (unrelated to the later small press Beacon), who had their editors insert clumsy softcore sex passages and publish it in a "double-novel" as The Sinful Ones with a very forgotten item called Bulls, Blood and Passion. Leiber saw the novella form finally in print from Ace Books in 1972 (in a volume that also included two novelets) and did what he could to rewrite the sexual passages to his taste and republish the longer-form text as The Sinful Ones with Pocket Books in 1980.

While Conjure Wife and his third horror novel Our Lady of Darkness have been reprinted several times, frequently together in an omnibus, You're All Alone has been neglected over the last two decades and more, and that is a pity, given the appeal of its initial conceit and the popularity of similar materials, even when they aren't loosely based on Philip Dick fiction that was probably at least lightly influenced by this. 

Please note the reuse of a certain Victoria Poyser cover painting above at left (Baen Books, 1986) and far above at right (Carroll & Graf, 1990). For more of today's books, please see organizer Patti Abbott's blog. Next week, I'll be compiling the links to other blogs while Patti is traveling, so please let me know if you have an item, particularly if you are an occasional contributor to Friday's Books...thanks.

At left, the 1966 issue of Fantastic which reprints "You're All Alone" from its FA appearance.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

one book I'm just finishing, one which just arrived...Jules Feiffer and Walt Kelly-related video added

The Feiffer is a bit diffident about nearly everything in Feiffer's (very own) life and career; the prose material provided with the strips in the Kelly (including Jimmy Breslin's preface) is not exactly fawning, but certainly helps trace Kelly's not altogether different path (Kelly was a little better at making friends with some of his bosses). Pogo and Sick, Sick, Sick have been my favorite newspaper strips so far...and picking up these books on big discounts didn't hurt my feelings (the memoir from a collapsing Borders, the strip collection on pre-order from Amazon).

Jules Feiffer film links: "Munro" and Little Murders

Feiffer's The Explainers and Kelly's Impollutable Pogo

Brian Arnold has brought to my attention, at least, the webposting of the disappointing but interesting Chuck Jones/Walt Kelly anti-collaboration for television here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Films and/or Other A/V: the links and comment

Bill Crider: The High and the Mighty

Brian Arnold: FM (1978)

Chuck Esola: Trancers

Dan Stumpf: Mysterious Dr. Satan; The Drums of Fu Manchu

Eric Peterson: The Annihilators

George Kelley: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Iba Dawson: Gaslight (1940)

Ivan G. Shreve: Theodora Goes Wild

Jack Seabrook: "Madame Mystery" (Alfred Hitchcock Presents:): Robert Bloch on TV

James Reasoner: Albuquerque

Jerry House: Danger on the Air

John Charles: The Checkered Flag

Michael Shonk: The Sentimental Agent

Mike Tooney: "Over Fifty? Steal."; “Odd Man In” (Hawaii Five-0 1970, 1971)

Patti Abbott: He and She

Pearce Duncan: Dracula (1992)

Randy Johnson: Massacre (1934)

Ron Scheer: The Quick and the Dead (1987)

Scott Cupp: The Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow

Walter Albert: Taxi! (1932)

Yvette Banek: The Adam Dalgliesh Chronicles; The Man from Earth

Related Matters:

Brent McKee: Last Man Standing (2011)

Enfantino & Scoleri: To the Batpoles! (the entire 1960s Greenway/Fox Batman series blog)

Kate Laity: Know-vember: What Films Make You Cry?

Todd Mason: some TV notes: Some of what you might be missing:

With television as atomized as it has ever been, you might not've caught the following (mostly fairly recent) items, and in some cases that's no great loss, but in others...

PBS has one of the rather disappointing ones, in America in Primetime, a series about television, and even more superficial and disappointing than their previous similar series, Pioneers of Television (despite hokey historical re-enactments in the second season, some of the episodes of Pioneers actually had some useful data to them, albeit the sf episode, where I knew the most about the territory they covered, most emphatically didn't; Primetime avoids the goofiness but instead rapidly edits in some of the most superficial interviews a mixed bag of television veterans could be expected to grant for a project such as this, with many of the people discussing sitcoms, for example, insisting that they are about workplace "families"...when, of course, the better ones are nothing of the sort, since workplaces are not familial groupings).

Borgen, which I praised previously here, remains an intelligent and engaging political and personal drama as it continues, and I think will amply reward the time of any viewers who are unafraid of subtitles. After being up for three weeks rather than the promised two, the posting of the first episode is now down, but there is a precis posted to help ease one into episodes two and three which are currently streaming from the Link TV site (Link is also feeding them on weekends in its cable/satcast clearances, and through such affiliate stations as KRCB in the San Francisco Bay area). I particularly enjoy that the fifth episode, still forthcoming on Link, is named in sardonic honor of the real title of the so-called The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo...the episode is called "Men Who Love Women."

We in Philadelphia have recently lost the clearance to MHz Worldview, due to a capricious decision of WYBE (please feel free to write them and ask for its return) to replace that feed with France24, a pleasant but repetitive newschannel, some of whose programming is viewable on Worldview...and RT, the Putinesque similar Russian channel (and they, too, get Worldview clearance for some of their news programs). Around the US, however, Worldview affiliates are continuing to feed the rather good assortment of Italian, German and Swedish crime-drama series as the International Mystery wheel on Sundays and Tuesdays, augmenting that with other film packages, the Italian Mafia series The Octopus (La Piovra), and such occasional specials as this just-announced item: Wallander’s World (26 November, 9pm ET/6pm PT): "Detective Kurt Wallander is one of the most popular figures in modern Scandinavian crime fiction. This program traces the character's development and appeal, through interviews with author Henning Mankell and actor Krister Henriksson, plus the producers who brought his adventures to TV audiences around the world. An MHz Networks original production. Broadcast in English."

And there are a raft of new cable series, many of them on the (extra-)pay or "premium" channels, such as Showtime, which has offered the well-mounted but rather flopping-about Homeland (and why is it that cable series are even more likely to be US remakes of foreign series, such as this one based on an Israeli series, than even the broadcast offerings?). Somewhat less trumpeted is Showtime's new humor series, Dave's Old Porn, in which comedian Dave Attell and guests from the comedy and pornography-production worlds briefly comment on examples of VHS-era (and slightly earlier) skin flicks; I'm fond of Attell's work, his old series Insomniac and his standup, and this series has been amusing (and comically censored enough to allow Showtime to not feel too threatened) so far.

The other pay channels, particularly longtime industry leader thus Cinemax, have had their own adventures in relatively explicit/smutty series go forward, such as (!)Richard Christian Matheson's not entirely witless (but not good) Chemistry, and of course the most popular of these, Starz's Spartacus franchise (from the same production folks who used to bring us Xena, Hercules, and The Legend of the Seeker). Even somewhat less perfervid programming with heavily sexual themes, such as HBO's Hung, can involve mildly surprising talent (in this case Alexander Payne, of such films as Election and Citizen Ruth).

Among the more "prestigious" product the pay stations are offering this year, Starz's Chicago political corruption serial Boss starts off fairly well, but I haven't seen past the pilot yet (and one suspects that a perception of its combination of the appeal of CBS's The Good Wife, still the best dramatic series on US tv, and HBO's Boardwalk Empire, which I'm told is improving, are responsible for this one going forward), and I've also yet to sit through more than a few minutes of the Cinemax espionage/war/explosion drama Strike Back.

I've also been recording, but haven't yet caught, American Horror Story on FX; I did catch the four broadcast episodes of the NBC US version of the BBC comedy Free Agents, the first sitcom fatality of the season; the first two episodes were genuinely amusing, but the mechanical contrivance had already begun to take over by the third, and its quick death probably wasn't too much a pity (far less a pity than the ridiculous censorship BBC America has been putting their run of the original series through, for cable clearance).

I have caught a couple of episodes of Ion's Canadian import Flashpoint, which had a brief run on CBS and is now the only original series on Ion's primetime schedule (otherwise all repeats from other networks or from cable stations); earnest and attempting to be evenhanded, and pleasant viewing, as far as it goes. Pity Ion didn't have the wherewithal to keep Men of a Certain Age, which they also briefly broadcast, in production. Meanwhile, the ridiculously overpraised espionage/soap Pan Am seems likely to be grounded soon, and the fantasy series Once Upon a Time (ABC) and Grimm (NBC) are just dull enough, in my experience of them so far, to be missable.

Far more disturbing real-life family drama comes in the form the short documentary The Marina Experiment, one of the most compelling of the offerings of the (US) Documentary Channel (Canada has a Documentary Channel, as well, with different ownership). And, far cheerier and less likely to be disappointing than the other PBS item mentioned above, Great Performances will for their 27 January episode feature the video made of the recording of Tony Bennett's Duets II album.

Thanks as always to all the contributors and to all you readers this and every week. Please feel free to leave comments at the various blogs...

Friday, November 11, 2011

FFB: NEGLECTED VISIONS edited by Barry N. Malzberg, Martin Harry Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander (Doubleday 1979)

Neglected Visions is an interesting anthology in several ways, not least in being a fine collection of short fiction, much of it previously uncollected and all of it out of print at time of publication in 1979; also, it was the first collaborative anthology between prolific anthologists (and frequent collaborators) Barry Malzberg and Martin Harry Greenberg (Barry, whom I've quizzed briefly about this book, remembers Joseph Olander's role as being relatively slight, and that Olander was approaching his retirement from work with Greenberg), as well as being a relatively early book in both their compilation careers. Also unusually, Malzberg and Greenberg/Olander take credit for discrete selections here, with Barry putting in the Mark Clifton, Kris Neville, Peter Phillips, Norman Kagan and F.L. Wallace stories, and his collaborators including the Christopher Anvil, Randall Garrett, Robert Abernathy and Wyman Guin items. Along with getting one more story in, Malzberg also provides a general introduction, and the selectors switch off introducing the stories themselves. Malzberg and Greenberg would do something altogether similar again in Uncollected Stars (Avon, 1986), which I briefly reviewed sometime back, with collaborators Piers Anthony and Charles G. Waugh (in that same review I cited Ramsey Campbell's Fine Frights, which shares the Phillips story with this one...the only story among them I'd read before picking up Neglected Visions).

None of these stories are particularly well-known even among most fantasy and sf "insiders" with the possible exception of Randall Garrett's remarkably thoroughly worked-out "The Hunting Lodge" (a breathless adventure of an assassin's attempt to kill one of the nearly-immortal "senators" who have divvied up North America into personal fiefdoms), a work cited by James Blish as well as the editors here as a jewel, sadly rare in the torrent of facile work he produced to order to fill the pages of Astounding Science Fiction in the latter 1950s and early 1960s, when editor John W. Campbell, Jr. seemed to have grown weary of his task, and was often editing on autopilot (Garrett, by himself and in collaboration particularly with Robert Silverberg or Lawrence Janifer and often under pseudonynms, apparently appeared more times in the magazine than any other contributor of fiction). Garrett would actually try again with his frequently impressive Lord D'Arcy stories in the early '60s and onward (among scattered other examples of solid or better work), but old hacking habits died hard. This cover inspired a lot of machismic discomfort in the sf-fan community at the time, inspiring jokes about, ho ho, the model being John Campbell's "wife"...

Big Digression: It's little wonder that along with the winnowing of the flood of digest-sized sf and fantasy magazines that popped up in the early 1950s to augment the pulp titles, with opportunist publishers aware of the success of the new Galaxy (particularly), Fantastic and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the reinvigorated, more mature and briefly more successful than ever Startling Stories and its stablemates, that Earl Kemp's Who Killed Science Fiction? struck such a chord in 1960, as the book publishers were pulling back from their experiments with sf in the early '50s, the potential for ever more mature, well-written and adventurous sf seemed to be disappearing, and as Astounding and Galaxy languished [along with the latter's newly-purchased stablemate, If, treated as a commercial step-sibling] even as they continued to include good and better fiction with the mediocre and worse, F&SF under Robert Mills was the blandest it would be for decades, if still good [Mills had done better at the shortlived companion Venture Science Fiction previously], and Fantastic and Amazing were only beginning to recover from the utterly disinterested editorship of Paul W. Fairman, under his former assistant, the green but adventurous Cele Goldsmith...and all the other magazines in the field were dead by the end of 1960, H.S. Santesson's Fantastic Universe (the last issue had a garish cover and the beginning of a serialization of The Mind Thing by Fredric Brown and stories by Robert Bloch and Jorge Luis Borges; it was a stablemate of the US edition of The Saint Mystery Magazine, which Santesson also began editing in '59, succeeding Sam Merwin, who had edited Startling and would move on to Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine) and Robert A. W. Lowndes's Science Fiction (the last title of the Columbia pulp and digest chain, publishers of some of the last crime-fiction and western pulps and the last sports-fiction pulp) being the last stragglers to fold. End of digression, pretty much.

The book begins with a story by retired psychologist Mark Clifton, who turned to sf as a medium for social criticism with vigor, but also (as Malzberg notes) with a keen commercial sense of how to appeal to his primary editor, John Campbell, by writing the kind of stories (about psionic abilities and other ESP-related matters) that JWC was particularly fascinated by in the early to mid 1950s; with "Clerical Error," Clifton was able to strenuously criticize specifically his former profession and the adjoining one of psychiatry, the government cult of classified information, and the tension between actual creative thought and survival in bureaucracy, essentially all matters close to Campbell's heart as well; Barry suspects the rather easy ending was created either in anticipation of Campbell's desire for such, or at his editorial command. The story has not aged badly, as, ridiculously, the degree of these problems hasn't lessened in the slightest since 1956, where it hasn't worsened. Barry has been championing Clifton fairly consistently since the latter 1970s, at least, and has been instrumental in bringing at least some of his work back into print, though the collection (co-edited with Greenberg), The Science Fiction of Mark Clifton (Southern Illinois University Press, 1980), as Barry recalls, sold less than 700 copies--not that SIU Press did much to support it. Clifton's novel with Frank Riley, They'd Rather Be Right, won the second Hugo Award given to a novel, in 1955.

"Christopher Anvil" (Harry Crosby)'s "Mind Partner" is also a story about madness, identity and perception, by another "pet" writer of Campbell's, though perhaps it's notable that this story, which Barry suggests is Anvil's best and it's certainly the best I've read by him, was published in Frederik Pohl's Galaxy instead. This one offers a private investigator trying to help bust an apparent drug ring, who move from mostly well-appointed house to house, but leaving a wake of despondent, psychotic addicts whenever authorities close in but fail to apprehend them. It turns out the pushers can alter perception in remarkably labyrinthine ways, including those of anyone who threatens them; our protagonist goes through a not quite recursive set of experiences as dark (in implication often more than in incident) and as well-told as the best of Philip Dick's similar work, and even though this was not one of Barry's choices, it's certainly akin to Malzberg's work in this mode, as well. Like the Clifton, it has a rather too-neat ending, but remains strange and engaging throughout.

Kris Neville's "Ballenger's People" is the story in the book closest to Malzberg's heart, "the best thing [Neville] has ever written and the best American short story published in its crazy year." as he puts it in the story's headnote; yesterday, he noted in email, "[It] had an enormous influence on my work; I read it at exactly the right time (1967 when published in Galaxy)." It tells the story of a man named Ballenger, whom we discover contains multitudes as well as a pure and abiding love for a percussionist named Angelique and, not irrelevantly, a bone to pick with a Columbia Record Club-style company he had bought his previous love-interest's videotapes from. It is a deft study of not quite functional madness and its affects on those around the madness or treating with their own less obvious sort, akin to both Malzberg's work and Robert Coover's, among others'. And thus, it, too, as is the Garrett which follows, to a great extent another story about identity, perception of identity, and distortion.

"Lost Memory" continues to be a very grim joke, both the title pun and the story as a whole, losing little of its power on rereading, about well-meaning robots doing their best to return an apparently fallen alien machine to mechanical health...while the human within the damaged spaceship they've found does his best to find a way to help them understand his plight. Malzberg notes that he almost chose Phillips's "Dreams are Sacred" over this one, but noted that what made the choice easier was how many writers had echoed "Dreams" over the years, including Barry himself, while "Lost Memory" seemed to serve as the last word on its theme. "Junior," by Robert Abernathy, which follows, is a much lighter sort of conceptual breakthrough comedy, involving a rebellious young male among a society of sentient and hidebound as well as shellbound mollusc-like creatures. It's a bit cute for my taste, but is pleasant and clever enough. It was a Greenberg/Olander choice and Barry also looks upon it fondly.

"Laugh Along with Franz" by Norman Kagan was another important story in Barry's career, inasmuch as it challenged him to consider writing sf professionally, as well as providing the example that the kind of thing he wanted to write could be published in sf media. Rather in the mode of the film of The Graduate, only more imaginatively and earlier, and even moreso in the mode of such satirical writers (at least when in that mood) as Herbert Gold and Herbert Gold and Bruce Jay Friedman or Muriel Spark, only as informed as their fellow-travelers Ray Nelson or (Ms.) Jody Scott (and certainly Malzberg as well) by sf tradition and, of course, by such allied work as Kafka's as well as by the Beat-begetting-Hippie counterculture, the story deals with a young software engineer at IBM (redubbed ICM) coming to some realizations about what really matters in life, and what might just be a tissue of lies, convenient for the powerful.

Wyman Guin, perhaps more exclusively famous (to the extent that he is) for What Is Reality fiction than anyone else in sf, thanks to his once widely-reprinted "Beyond Bedlam" (far superior to Evan Hunter's slightly later drugged society story "Malice in Wonderland," if perhaps missing the snappy ad lines of Huxley's most famous fiction), is instead represented here by a mildly misogynist but otherwise deft fantasy, "My Darling Hecate." Guin didn't quite learn the right lessons from Fritz Leiber's Conjure Wife, in this story of an accidental but nonetheless powerful witch, who has remarkable powers she can barely control, when she puts her mind to it. But, again, it plays out rather cleverly, particularly in the manner in which her subconscious plays havoc with the world around her.

I'd just begun the Wallace story, as I write this, the previous night, and while it starts promisingly, with yet another sort of spy or agent making his way through a dangerous city on a world inhabited by amphibian humanoids, I might or might not get to finish it before revising this later today. Barry is almost as enthusiastic about Wallace's work as he is about Clifton's; he sees Wallace's fiction as similar in approach and in reframing the questions we should be asking in science fiction, though Wallace was writing for (the no less demanding, and in both similar and different ways eccentric) H. L. Gold, founding editor of Galaxy, who grew more removed from his editorial work in later '50s less from simply burning out, as Campbell was, than by the weight of failure to achieve his ambitions with his magazine, and the effects of both WW2-induced agoraphobia and pain meds he took, even before an auto-accident during an attempt to go out nearly killed him; this is why Frederik Pohl was apparently editing Galaxy and If in all but title no later than 1960, and gradually doing more and more of the work for some time before that. That Wallace was so strongly associated with Gold's version of the magazine might've been a contributing factor in Wallace leaving sf in the late '50s, not finding Pohl the same sort of editor; as Malzberg notes, Wallace published some mystery novels and then ceased writing fiction.

And I've finally noted, all these stories come from either Campbell's Astounding (before its retitling as Analog in 1960), or from Gold's Galaxy and Beyond, or Pohl's 1960s Galaxy (and Pohl had been pretty deeply involved with Galaxy as a contributor of fiction and literary agent for a lot of the other contributors from nearly its beginning under Gold).

All told, while this book (moreso than the latter Uncollected Stars), has fiction which tends to cluster, as repeatedly noted, around questions of perception and identity, while touching on rather than for the most part dealing directly with other great themes that sf can lend itself to, it's an excellent book to sit and read. And, like the later volume, if not quite to the same extent as the Clifton collection, it was not a commercial success. Like nearly every other book published in the Doubleday Science Fiction imprint, particularly at the production nadir of that line in the late '70s, it's poorly bound (the trade hardcover has a glue binding, not sewn, and in every other way is identical to the probable SF Book Club edition of the time, another arm of Doubleday), given an inept cover (in this case moreso than most even for D-day...just look at it), and, as Barry notes, "Doubleday packaged the book contemptuously and dumped it as they dumped all Doubleday sf. Sales were miserable." The Doubleday Science Fiction imprint depended on library sales for nearly all of its income (and was hardly unique in this in hardcover publishing at the time, or for at least a decade or so beforehand and after), and expected those sales to come to a certain amount whether a given book was good, bad or indifferent; no one in Garden City was going to make much effort to help distinguish any given item published thus. The Asimov books would sell better, and Ellison's Dangerous Visions anthology too, or at least sell consistently for longer, but Asimov didn't write much sf any longer, and his sf books from Doubleday were usually about as clumsily-packaged as everyone else's. Everyone else could cry themselves a river. And even as The Simarillion was setting sales records for hardcover fiction, and the Levin/Tryon/Blatty/King/Rice horror blockbuster trend was starting to become impossible to ignore, no one at D-day was going to try to suggest that a Doubleday Fantasy or Doubleday Horror imprint might be a useful, much less a profitable, idea...nah, those books could continue to be "Doubleday Science Fiction" if they were by some writer a D-day staffer had editorially/promotionally decided wrote sf, five or fifteen years previously...hence, for example, the mislabeling thus of Manly Wade Wellman's John the Balladeer novels in their original editions. (Wellman's historical fantasy novels, too:)

And, frankly, these stories remain (at least) good reading, though they also remain difficult to find without seeking out this long out-of-print volume or their original magazine appearances...but you could do much worse with much more effort. The story headnotes and the pointers to more work by the assembled alone might be worth the few bucks to pick up a library discard like mine, in decent shape (mine from the Public Library of Des Moines).

And many thanks to Barry Malzberg for letting me pepper him with questions.

upgraded slightly from the Contento index:
Neglected Visions ed. Barry N. Malzberg, Martin H. Greenberg & Joseph D. Olander (Doubleday, 1979, hc) 212pp. Each of the stories is followed by a selective bibliography of the author's other short fiction (and the anthologies and collections where they have been reprinted) and novels.

vii · Introduction · Barry N. Malzberg · in
1 · Clerical Error · Mark Clifton · nv Astounding Feb ’56
35 · Mind Partner · Christopher Anvil · nv Galaxy Aug ’60
65 · Ballenger’s People · Kris Neville · ss Galaxy Apr ’67
77 · The Hunting Lodge · Randall Garrett · nv Astounding Jul ’54
109 · Lost Memory · Peter Phillips · ss Galaxy May ’52
122 · Junior · Robert Abernathy · ss Galaxy Jan ’56
130 · Laugh Along with Franz · Norman Kagan · nv Galaxy Dec ’65
153 · My Darling Hecate · Wyman Guin · nv Beyond Fantasy Fiction Nov ’53
171 · Delay in Transit · Floyd L. Wallace · na Galaxy Sep ’52

For more of today's books, please see organizer Patti Abbott's blog.