Friday, June 22, 2012

FFB: THE GOLDEN HELIX Theodore Sturgeon, THE ZANZIBAR CAT Joanna Russ, ERASMUS MAGISTER Charles Sheffield, THE DARK COUNTRY Dennis Etchison, THE GO-AWAY BIRD Muriel Spark

Another Cook's tour of some of the most influential reading I'd come across in my youth...tables of contents, except the last, from the Contento indices.

Some guys hanging out...Clive Barker, Dennis Etchison, Karl Edward Wagner, and Charles Grant in 1986.

The Sturgeon Project has almost made finding Sturgeon's collected short fiction too easy...though not too easy enough for nearly enough people to have yet attempted to seek out the often brilliant, almost always compulsively readable yet challenging shorter work by this chief model for Ray Bradbury (whose work was never better than when most like that of the slightly older artist), the terrifying bad example to Kurt Vonnegut of how genius can consistently dash itself upon the shoals of pragmatism, the guy who could get a check for a story any time from all sorts of editors, for example Howard Browne at Ziff-Davis, who let Sturgeon know that Browne didn't need to read the story to be confident about buying it and Sturgeon should know as much, to others who might have to wait a bit longer for work purchased in advance. Vonnegut and Heinlein and Ellison and any number of others had and have all sorts of Sturgeon anecdotes to impart, and Asimov once wrote about how paltry his own work looked to him after he read a good Sturgeon story.

And what the 1979 collection, first published by the Science Fiction Book Club with an ugly cover and a $2.49 price tag (excluded shipping), mostly offers is good and great stories, with a few mildly amusing ones thrown in. Dell did the paperback edition I bought, the next year, after I'd read several of the stories earlier in other books and their original magazine appearances. It took me a while to catch up with the other Dell collections published at about the same time...meanwhile, The Golden Helix was the collection which wouldn't die, seeing no fewer than four U.S. editions, including those from Bluejay Books (1985) and Carroll and Graf (1989).

"The Man Who Lost the Sea" was the story that Martha Foley took for that year's Best American Short Stories, "...and my fear is great..." was the best as well as first story in the first issue of Beyond Fantasy Fiction, and established that H. L. Gold's shortlived magazine was going to leave a legacy of stories that not only tilled the same sort of ground as Unknown Fantasy Fiction had before it, but do so while being willing to delve into uncomfortable emotional territory; "And Now the News..." might be a better story than either, one of the best studies of psychopathology in fiction I've read, and a deftly, deceptively "light" and witty approach to the subject. "The Skills of Xanadu" is a fine argument for anarchy and against regimentation and self-repression, and bitterly funny. The two Unknown stories, from the beginning of Sturgeon's career, helped establish tropes that fantasists are still mining, albeit the solipsism of "The Ultimate Egoist" perhaps has since become a bit more played out than the exploration of perception that "Yesterday was Monday" presents, which can be seen as going down a path that might lead to Groundhog Day among other better-known fantasies. This isn't Sturgeon's best early work (I'd still plump for "It" and "Shottle Bop" and "A Way of Thinking" and "Bianca's Hands"--the latter two had to wait some years to be published), nor is "I Say...Earnest..." his best later work, but they entertain and they are all art, some of the highest grade.

The Golden Helix Theodore Sturgeon (Nelson Doubledaay/SFBC, Nov ’79, hc)
· Introduction · in
· The Golden Helix · na Thrilling Wonder Stories Sum ’54
· The Man Who Lost the Sea · ss The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (or F&SF) Oct ’59
· And Now the News... · ss F&SF Dec ’56
· The Clinic · ss Star Science Fiction Stories #2, ed. Frederik Pohl, Ballantine, 1953
· ...and my fear is great... · na Beyond Fantasy Fiction Jul ’53
· The Ultimate Egoist · nv Unknown Feb ’41
· The Skills of Xanadu · nv Galaxy Jul ’56
· The Dark Room · nv Fantastic Jul/Aug ’53
· Yesterday Was Monday · ss Unknown Jun ’41
· “I Say...Ernest...” · ss The Los Angeles Weekly News Aug 10 ’73

Joanna Russ was similarly playful, and similarly challenging. As with Sturgeon, she was not shy about offering her opinion, and hers could well be rather more astringent, but, then, people were even more likely to be rude to her. She didn't bank the flames of her passions, nor her brilliance. Chronic health problems plagued her, not least back trouble that not too far along in her career required that she write while standing, something which the other problems didn't make any easier. In the end, we've seen only four collections of her short fiction so far, including that which brings together her swashbuckling heroine Alyx's several tales. The Zanzibar Cat was the second collection of her work, first published in 1983 (rather late!) by Arkham House, rather appropriate given Russ's start as primarily a horror writer (though Arkham was certainly branching out in various directions by that time). I have the Baen edition. Those early horrors are represented here by "My Dear Emily," the first story to get her much attention, and "There Is Another Shore, You Know, Upon the Other Side" (a great title selection, I've felt, quoting Rev. Dodgson). "When It Changed," among other things the roots of her magnum opus The Female Man, is here, with the even more playfully witty "Useful Phrases for the Tourist." Such yearning fantasies as "My Boat" (you can squint very hard and consider it a Lovecraftian story, as ISFDb does) and "How Amelie Bertrand Kept Away the Spring" are here. Two short stories from the little magazine Epoch, which much earlier published her first poems alongside the first published short fiction of Philip Roth, are here, and we sorely miss the nonexistent collections of her contemporary-mimetic fiction, and her poetry. (Her sly story from the Silverberg and Elwood anthology Epoch is in another of her collections.) This book, and all her books, should be in print.

The Zanzibar Cat Joanna Russ (Arkham House 0-87054-097-1, Oct ’83, $13.95, xii+244pp, hc)
· Drawings · Dennis Neal Smith · il
vii · Foreword · Marge Piercy · fw
3 · When It Changed · ss Again, Dangerous Visions, ed. Harlan Ellison, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1972
12 · The Extraordinary Voyages of Amélie Bertrand · ss F&SF Sep ’79
28 · The Soul of a Servant · ss Showcase, ed. Roger Elwood, Harper & Row, 1973
46 · Gleepsite · ss Orbit 9, ed. Damon Knight, G.P. Putnam’s, 1971
52 · Nobody’s Home · ss New Dimensions II, ed. Robert Silverberg, Doubleday, 1972
70 · My Dear Emily · nv F&SF Jul ’62
95 · The New Men · ss F&SF Feb ’66
105 · My Boat · ss F&SF Jan ’76
125 · Useful Phrases for the Tourist · ss Universe 2, ed. Terry Carr, Ace, 1972
131 · Corruption · ss Aurora: Beyond Equality, ed. Vonda McIntyre & Susan Anderson, Fawcett, 1976
143 · There Is Another Shore, You Know, Upon the Other Side · ss F&SF Sep ’63
159 · A Game of Vlet · ss F&SF Feb ’74
173 · How Dorothy Kept Away the Spring · ss F&SF Feb ’77
183 · Poor Man, Beggar Man · nv Universe 1, ed. Terry Carr, Ace, 1971
209 · Old Thoughts, Old Presences · gp; The Autobiography of My Mother, ss Epoch Fll ’75; Daddy’s Girl, ss Epoch Spr ’75
234 · The Zanzibar Cat · ss Quark #3, ed. Samuel R. Delany & Marilyn Hacker, Paperback Library, 1971

Too quickly, since time is slipping away, as it will:
For some reason, I want to think Charles Sheffield had a brief career as a writer of sf and fantasy, but he was rather steadily at the job for a good quarter century, before he was cut short in 2002. Perhaps because his Erasmus Darwin historical fantasies were my favorites among his work, and he wrote so relatively few of them; as with Russ's Alyx stories or Ron Goulart's Max Kearney, it takes only one not too bulky volume to contain them all. However, Erasmus Magister contains only the first three published, which I was happy to read in Fantastic, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine (somewhat unexpectedly, but Fantastic was folding) and F&SF; I still haven't picked up The Amazing Dr. Darwin (2002, the year of Sheffield's death), which gathers two more Darwin stories I haven't read and another unrelated fantasy, though misses the last Darwin story published in Hitchcock's, a year later. Playfulness, and a certain mildly jaundiced view of humanity, emerge from these pages (Darwin becomes Sheffield's own Sherlock)...a certain trend, not too uncommon among fiction writers it must be admitted, seems to be arising.

Erasmus Magister Charles Sheffield (Ace 0-441-21526-2, Jun ’82, $2.50, 217pp, pb) [Erasmus Darwin]
· Introduction · in
1 · The Devil of Malkirk · na F&SF Jun ’82
80 · The Treasure of Odirex · na Fantastic Jul ’78
152 · The Lambeth Immortal · na AHMM Jun ’79
210 · Appendix- Erasmus Magister: Fact and Fiction · ar *

The problem with Dennis Etchison is simply that he writes too little, at least under his own name, and I wonder how he keeps body and soul together (Wikipedia's entry suggests a fair amount of unproduced scripts, along with a number of produced ones, in the Hollywood mill). One of the knot of brilliant horror- and suspense-fiction writers to break into the field as kids in the early '60s (Ramsey Campbell and Joanna Russ, not quite a kid but still very young and just a tad earlier with her first relevant fiction in '59, being prominent among the others), and The Dark Country was his first (and rather late) collection. Scream/Press did the original hardcover, of which I have a battered ex-library copy, and Babbage Press did a reasonably handsome print-on-demand edition I was happy to pick up from them, some years later. Such viciously funny stories as "The Dead Line" and "The Late Shift" aren't likely to leave the reader's memory soon, and the latter certainly is one of the earlier stories to pick up George Romero's zombie-ish ball and run with it; while "The Pitch" is even more intense and not even beginning to joke around.

The Dark Country Dennis Etchison (Scream/Press, Oct ’82, hc)
xi · Introduction · Ramsey Campbell · in
1 · It Only Comes Out at Night · ss Frights, ed. Kirby McCauley, St. Martins, 1976
13 · Sitting in the Corner, Whimpering Quietly · vi Whispers Dec ’76
17 · The Walking Man · ss Mystery Monthly Nov ’76
29 · We Have All Been Here Before · ss Whispers II, ed. Stuart David Schiff, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1979
41 · Daughter of the Golden West [“A Feast for Cathy”] · ss Cavalier, 1973
53 · The Pitch · ss Whispers Oct ’78
63 · You Can Go Now · ss Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine Sep ’80
75 · Today’s Special · ss Cavalier, 1972
81 · The Machine Demands a Sacrifice · ss Cavalier, 1972
93 · Calling All Monsters · ss F&SF Jun ’73
99 · The Dead Line · ss Whispers Oct ’79
111 · The Late Shift · ss Dark Forces, ed. Kirby McCauley, Viking, 1980
127 · The Nighthawk · ss Shadows #1, ed. Charles L. Grant, Doubleday, 1978
145 · It Will Be Here Soon [Jack Martin] · ss Weirdbook #14 ’79
161 · Deathtracks · ss Death, ed. Stuart David Schiff, Playboy Press, 1982
173 · The Dark Country [Jack Martin] · ss Fantasy Tales #8 ’81

And yet another first collection rounds out this assembly of great memories. This book (particularly in the 1960 Lippincott edition I first read) seems a little scarce on the ground (though there was a fairly recent paperback), but the contents have been mixed in with Spark's other humane but skeptical, witty and distanced but not altogether unsympathetic short stories in two different Complete collections, of which I own a copy of the All the Stories volume. This might also be the most fantasticated of her collections, featuring the no-argument classic horror "The Portobello Road" and other occasionally literally and always figuratively haunted stories, including the title long story and such other delightful bits of creepiness as "The Twins" and their indulgent family. The cover reproduced here is of the first, UK edition...I'd really like to see the Lippincott illustration again, faded as it was on the library copy I borrowed all those years ago...although I'd heard of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, it was in one of Judith Merril's anthologies that I first read Spark...index from WorldCat:

The Go-Away Bird, with Other Stories,
Author: Muriel Spark
Publisher: London, Macmillan, 1958.
Description: 215 p. 20 cm.
The black madonna.-
The pawnbroker's wife.-
The twins.-
Miss Pinkerton's Apocalypse.-
A sad tale's best for winter.-
The go-away bird.-
Daisy overend.-
You should have seen the mess.-
Come along, Marjorie.-
The seraph and the zambesi.-
The Portobello road.

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


Anonymous said...

I lost count of the number of times I've read MORE THAN HUMAN, and I dip into Sturgeon when I think of it, usually coming across something on a shelf or in a box. The library has nothing, of course.

Todd Mason said...

In Portland, particularly, I bet they might be receptive to a request they buy the Sturgeon Project or at least the Vintage volumes...

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Terrific post Todd (sorry its taking me so long to catch up with some posts of late, work very much taking its toll these days). Had me racing to my Bluejay edition of HELIX just to hold it in my hands and read through some of the pages again. Spark used to live not far from my parents' place in Umbria (just thought I'd brag, tangentially ...)

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, Sergio...I've been rather busy as well! Sounds like your folks picked a pretty good spot to dwell in, if Spark wanted to relocate there from across Europe...

Rich Horton said...

I read just about all of those Dell Sturgeon collections as they came out. THE GOLDEN HELIX is remarkable. Of course I've long wondered whether "... And Now the News" or "The Man Who Lost the Sea" is the greater story -- really, there's no reason to choose. And I loved "And My Fear is Great" from the first ... I read it first in this collection, the other stories I'd already seen.

And of course THE ZANZIBAR CAT is remarkable. I still consider "Nobody's Home" tied for first with "The Second Inquisition" as Russ's best story (though a recent rereading of "When it Changed" elevated it in my estimation, though not enough to match those two stories.)

Finally, oddly I've never read a single Muriel Spark short story ... despite having read at least a dozen of her novels. Great writer.

Todd Mason said...

Either THE GO-AWAY BRID or the COMPLETE STORIES is a fine jumping-in point for Spark stories, Rich...she's At Least as good in short form as she is in her (often short) novels.

More Sturgeon and definitely more Russ and Spark to get a write-up here eventually...and, sadly, some memorial writing about Etchison is overdue.