Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday's Forgotten Books, the Links, and: E PLURIBUS UNICORN by Theodore Sturgeon; NINE HORRORS AND A DREAM by Joseph Payne Brennan; (HORROR STORIES FROM) TALES TO BE TOLD IN THE DARK edited by Basil Davenport

***Please see the end of the post for Emergency Backup Links to the other posts for this week's FFB.

FFB bonus: 
Robert Bloch, 1979:
Leigh Brackett, J. Francis McComas and Eric Frank Russell in memoriam

"I have always felt that, at his best, nobody wrote better science fiction and fantasy than Ted Sturgeon." Richard Matheson, newly released 1992 interview with Richard Lupoff and Richard Wolinsky

from the Contento index:
E Pluribus Unicorn Theodore Sturgeon 
(Abelard, 1953, $2.75, 276pp, hc; Ballantine, 1956, pb; 
cover by Richard Powers)

· Essay on Sturgeon · Groff Conklin · in
· The Silken-Swift · nv F&SF Nov ’53
· The Professor’s Teddy-Bear · ss Weird Tales Mar ’48
· Bianca’s Hands · ss Argosy (UK) May ’47
· Saucer of Loneliness · ss Galaxy Feb ’53
· The World Well Lost · ss Universe Jun ’53
· It Wasn’t Syzygy [“The Deadly Ratio”] · nv Weird Tales Jan ’48
· The Music · vi *
· Scars · ss Zane Grey’s Western Magazine May ’49
· Fluffy · ss Weird Tales Mar ’47
· The Sex Opposite · nv Fantastic Fll ’52
· Die, Maestro, Die! · nv Dime Detective Magazine May ’49
· Cellmate · ss Weird Tales Jan ’47
· A Way of Thinking · nv Amazing Oct/Nov ’53

This was only the second collection of Sturgeon's work, and the most eclectic one readers would see at least until the the Dell collections published at the turn of the 1980s...given the mix of western, suspense, horror, fantasy and sf, perhaps not until Paul Williams got The Sturgeon Project and its volumes of his complete short stories under way more than a decade after that. And while the first collection and several to appear shortly afterward snagged such notable stories as "It" and "...And My Fear Is Great...", this is as good a core-sampling of Sturgeon's work as one could ask for. "Bianca's Hands" is the story that Unknown's John W. Campbell was so disturbed by that he sought to convince other editors not to publish it; happily, the editors at Argosy's British edition, slightly more sophisticated than even the good US version of the magazine, decided that it deserved to win a contest they were running...with the runner up being Graham Greene. "A Saucer of Loneliness" is barely an sf story at all, with the alien visitation theme added only when Sturgeon couldn't place the story in paying non-sf markets (and it's an excellent story even with that market improvisation in place). "The Professor's Teddy Bear," "Fluffy" and "Cellmate" are expert horror, as is the even more disturbing "A Way of Thinking" (improbably first appearing in theoretically science-fictional Amazing rather than its fantasy/sf companion Fantastic), which, like "Bianca's Hands," had waited several years for a market willing to take it on. "The World Well Lost" was the first story to be published in the sf magazines to argue for acceptance of homosexuality, and it's a credit to editor Bea Mahaffey as well as to Sturgeon that it appeared in her first issue of Universe Science Fiction. "Scars" is an utterly unfantasticated western, with several sorts of tragic turn running right up to its conclusion. "The Silken Swift" is a fine, gentle fantasy (and the source of the book-title's unicorn); "It Wasn't Syzygy" one of the first works tackling the recurring Sturgeon fascination with synergies of personality and greater forces that might thus be generated...his novel More Than Human would be another example, as is this volume's "The Sex Opposite."

(The Pocket Books reprint I was quite happy to purchase in a supermarket in 1984. You never know where Sturgeon's work would turn sf short story in Sports Illustrated, as the only book reviewer, I suspect, to ply that trade in all four of Venture Science Fiction, National Review, Galaxy and Hustler, in that order...etc....)

from ISFDb:
Nine Horrors and a Dream by Joseph Payne Brennan (Arkham House, 1958; Ballantine 1962);
cover by Richard Powers (contents first published in this collection except as noted)

1 • Slime • (1953) • novelette (Weird Tales, March 1953)
33 • Levitation • (1958) • short story
39 • The Calamander Chest • (1954) • short story (Weird Tales, January 1954)
51 • Death in Peru • (1954) • short story (Mystic Magazine, January 1954)
61 • On the Elevator • (1953) • short story (Weird Tales, July 1953)
71 • The Green Parrot • (1952) • short story (Weird Tales, July 1952)
79 • Canavan's Back Yard • [Canavan] • (1958) • short story
95 • I'm Murdering Mr. Massington • short fiction
101 • The Hunt • (1958) • short story
113 • The Mail for Juniper Hill • short fiction

Joseph Payne Brennan was a less fully-realized artist than Sturgeon was, and not as deft nor as careful with his prose (few have been); but nonetheless, Brennan did good work in the field of horror in at least two ways, with the brilliant vignette "Levitation" and such perhaps more-famous stories as "Canavan's Back Yard," "The Calamander Chest" (which Vincent Price would record for a Caedmon LP in the mid '70s) and, most famously, "Slime"...a long story that if it isn't the only parent of the film The Blob, is still the most important one (and rather an improvement on the somewhat cruder similar story in the first issue of Weird Tales from 1923, "Ooze" by Anthony Rud). As one of the last great "discoveries' for the original Weird Tales magazine before it folded in 1954, Brennan's other notable contribution was in publishing the occasional little magazine devoted to horror and related matter, Macabre, in the latter '50s and into the 1970s, by which time several small-press magazines had picked up the torch. As Avram Davidson concluded his positive review of this book in F&SF, "Mr. Brennan is perhaps not M. R. James...but who is?"

courtesy Vault of Evil:
Tales To Be Told in the Dark, edited by Basil Davenport 
(Dodd, Mead 1953; abridged edition, as Horror Stories from..., Ballantine, 1960;
cover by Richard Powers)

William Fryer Harvey - The Beast With Five Fingers
Stephen Hall - By One, By Two, By Three
Saki - Sredni Vashtar
Lord Dunsany - The Two Bottles Of Relish
Margaret Irwin - The Book
John Collier - Thus I Refute Beelzy
[James Thurber - The Whip-Poor-Will--omitted in the Ballantine edition]
Arthur Machen - The White People
Lafcadio Hearn - Mujina
Saki - The Open Window
Basil Davenport - Two Anecdotes
Anon - The Closed Cabinet
Basil Davenport - The Closed Cabinet Retold

Critic and historian E. F. Bleiler is quoted in the capsule review at Vault of Evil:

"Davenport, recognizing that The Closed Cabinet is cumbersome, badly plotted and barely intelligible, has shortened the narrative greatly and reworked the story. It was not worth the effort."

While Davenport was a literary gadabout in the 1950s and up till his death in 1966, and a friend to fantastic fiction, this anthology is a very mixed bag, indeed, despite the excellent stories by John Collier, Lord Dunsany (his already a relish-drenched chestnut by 1953), Harvey and Saki. The anecdotes are mild jokes, the punchline of one being a rather elderly pun: "I was told to always strike a happy medium.") Davenport's instructional tips on how to tell stories are rather good, better the most of the balance of the fiction here ("Mujina" has been improved upon from Hearn's version, though I'm damned if I can remember whose very similar story I was fortunate enough to read not long after first picking up this book). Apparently, the other Ballantine anthologies attributed to Davenport were ghost-edited, but I suspect this one is so idiosyncratic that only Davenport himself would've chosen the contents, since he also annotates them. An interesting curio, and with the third of a trio of rather good Richard Powers covers, from this age of Powers's work appearing on many Ballantine and Berkley items particularly. 

For more of this week's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog tomorrow; for now, an emergency backup set of links (as Patti's blog is fighting her). Next week, I will host the links-list here more permanently.

Sergio Angelini, BINARY, Michael Crichton
Joe Barone, KILLER'S WEDGE. Ed McBain
Bill Crider, I WAS A TEENAGE DWARF, Max Shulman
Martin Edwards, THE BEAST MUST DIE, Nicholas Blake
Curt Evans, TIME TO CHANGE HATS, Margot Bennett 

Jerry House, THE INVADING ASTEROID, Manley Wade Wellman
Randy Johnson, THE SINGING SCORPION, William Colt MacDonald
Nick Jones, ROAD DOGS, Elmore Leonard
George Kelley, THE REFORMED GUN, Marvin H. Albert
Margot Kinberg. WITNESS THE NIGHT, Kishwar Desai
Rob Kitchin, LAIDLAW, William McIlvanney
B.V. Lawson, THE MAN WHO DIDN'T FLY, Margot Bennett
Evan Lewis, DURANDEL, Harold Lamb
Brian Lindenmuth, WAKE IN FRIGHT, KennethCook
Todd Mason, E PLURIBUS UNICORN by Theodore Sturgeon; NINE HORRORS AND A DREAM by Joseph Payne Brennan; (HORROR STORIES FROM) TALES TO BE TOLD IN THE DARK edited by Basil Davenport

John F. Norris, THE DOGS DO BARK, Jonathan Stagge
Juri Nummelin, THE LADY IN THE CAR WITH GLASSES AND A GUN, Sebastien Japrisot
James Reasoner, HEAT, edited by Russell Davis  

Karyn Reeves, THE D.A. HOLDS A CANDLE, Erle Stanley Gardner
Richard Robinson, SHAPECHANGER'S SONG, Jennifer Roberson
Kerrie Smith, A DARK ADAPTED EYE, Barbara Vine
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, THE LONG GOODBYE, Raymond Chandler
James Winter, GUN CHURCH, Reed Farrel Coleman

Frank/Zybahn, BIG FISH, Daniel Wallace


Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Fab post Todd - glad to say I have the Sturgeon collection (well, I have nearly all of them barring the most recent retrospectives) but not the others, which sound great - thanks, as always.

George said...

BALLANTINE BOOKS sure published some wonderful books. I own all of these, but I've only read the Sturgeon. Love those great Powers covers!

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, gentlemen...and if you have and have read the Sturgeon, you have the best of these by some margin...but you will suffer no pain in reading the Brennan ("Levitation" is one of the best and most neatly-done horror vignettes so far...I find it hard to believe that no one in 1958 would publish it before the collection was published, but perhaps Brennan didn't try too hard to place it), and if one doesn't already have the chestnuts in Davenport's book, or one wants to read his cheerful advice on storytelling to small groups, an inexpensive copy of his book (or, perhaps even better though with a worse cover, the unabridged Faber edition) would be worth the investment (of time as well as lucre)...the more obscure stories in the Davenport are, as Bleiler suggests about the worst of them, obscure for a reason.

Betty and Ian Ballantine loved them some Sturgeon, as person and as writer, and were particularly keen on paperback reprints of Arkham House collections for a period in the early '60s (perhaps a mutually beneficial deal was struck at that point when both publishers were feeling the pinch), though at least the Brennan wasn't plastered, as Manly Wade Wellman's Who Fears the Devil?was, with false claims of science fiction within...not every Ballantine paperback was first-rate, to be sure, but they did interesting things, and these three were among the fine reprints they offered (they, like Lion Books and Fawcett Gold Medal among others later on, were even more proud of their innovations with paperback originals).

J F Norris said...

Ballantine also had the guts to publish the work of "Sarban" and Marghanita Laski when no other US publisher would. I've been looking for an affordable copy of the Sturgoen book only to read "A World Well Lost." I've only ever found it in a volume of Sturgeon's complete short stoires but that copy was too pricey for me.

Rick Robinson said...

I sure do remember these covers, but not the book inside them at all. But then in 1956-1957, at age 12, I didn't have any book money and everything I read was from the library, which I'm pretty certain did not have these!

Todd Mason said...

Well, in those years, Rick, not in these editions, as only the Sturgeon was available then...and the libraries would've bought the hardcovers in those days (the Abelard edition of the Sturgeon has a particularly drab cover).

Well, John, you should definitely go beyond "The World Well Lost" when you locate a copy (but I can't imagine there aren't reasonably-priced copies of the Sturgeon Project volume or this antho in one or another edition somewhere online...). If you haven't read it yet, for the sociological import and the savagely satirical undercurrent, you're going to need to read Sturgeon's "Affair with a Green Monkey"...

Michael E. Stamm said...

All three are important volumes in my library, though I suspect my copy of the Sturgeon is a later paperback than this. The Davenport anthology is central to my appreciation and understanding of horror fiction; I traded a Ballantine paperback of THE VAULT OF HORROR for it way back when, and the stories were perhaps unduly influential. The "Mujina" here IS the Hearn version, identical to that in my copy of KWAIDAN in an early '70s Tuttle paperback. And while "The Closed Cabinet" does not read as well to my grown-up eyes as it once did (I'm faintly surprised no one has sussed out the author in the 60 years since TALES TO BE TOLD IN THE DARK was published), when I was 11 or 12 it was pretty effective. (I recently watched the version done on THRILLER in the early '60s, which had a moment or two but was overall not impressive.)

Todd Mason said...

I still need to go through my THRILLER collection (I've seen perhaps a third of them again)...I wonder what (other than public domain status) drove them to dramatize that. But perhaps someone has dug around and found that anonymous writer...I suspect someone has...

Sorry if I was unclear--someone wrote a better version than Hearn's of the same basic situation...close enough to be plagiarism. I still wonder, at this remove, whom it was.

Casual Debris said...

A late response, but I've got a post for this week's FFBs: Casual Debris.


Todd Mason said...

Got it, Frank...thanks!