Friday, October 16, 2015

FFB: WORKERS WRITE! TALES FROM THE COURTROOM edited by David LaBounty (Blue Cubicle Press 2011); LOVECRAFT: A SYMPOSIUM by Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, August Derleth, Arthur Jean Cox, et al. (LASFS/Riverside Quarterly 1964)

Workers Write! has become officially a little magazine appearing annually, but started as a small press anthology in 2005, with Workers Write! Tales from the Cubicle, like all volumes/issues since devoted to fiction and poetry written by or at least from the point of view of workers in a certain field...each issue has had (a bit too adorably) a "Tales from the C---" subtitle, and the 2011 issue is perhaps one of the closest to the usual interests of FFB contributors and readers, the courtroom issue. As the only issue of the magazine I've read so far (they also produce single-story chapbooks somewhat more frequently than the annual issues), it's a solid and engaging selection of crime fiction that is neither completely devoted to procedural accounts nor (as some might stereotype little magazine fiction) nebulous exercises in looking within; I'm only slightly surprised it wasn't cited in the 2012 Best American Mystery Stories, given how much Otto Penzler loves to delve into the little magazines for content.

What led me to pick it up was a story by Liz Hufford, a good writer whose "This Offer Expires" (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September 1976) had stuck with me, and who had published only three rather well-regarded stories in 1970s fantastic-fiction media (one in Damon Knight's anthology series Orbit, two in F&SF) after passing through the Clarion Writers Workshop...she had continued to publish in various little magazines and academic texts occasionally since, while also teaching at Glendale Community College in Arizona. "Gone Accourting" is unsurprisingly one of the better stories in the issue, a rumination on life and particularly the judicial system while also an account of someone not too unlike Hufford herself being called to serve on a jury; as someone who, while living in Philadelphia proper some years back, was called to jury duty something like eleven times while never being empaneled, I could sympathize. (This is one of a few stories in the issue that might put the reader particularly in mind of John D. MacDonald.) Jack Ewing, an old hand who hasn't ever made a huge splash in a long career, has a deft story in "Serves You Right" that easily could fit in any neo-noir context, about why a process server might not wish to pursue his white whale; Randall Patterson's "Old Soldiers" is similarly informed by a long career in both writing and the law, and might be the best story here. Tom Green's "Huntz's Law" might be a bit over-broad, in its account of a judge still rankled by envy of some of his law-school classmates, and seeking one big splashy case to preside over; judges similarly have not so great times of it in Juliet Hubble's "Amicus, Briefly" (a quick portrait of an unfulfilled if useful life) and Anthony Mohr's "Affirmed," where an accomplished jurist in her middle years is treating with the emotional fallout of her father, going into his final spiral, not being capable of recognizing anything but his own vision of how his children's lives should be (not altogether convincingly, I'd say about this story, but I can sympathize with the situation). Michael Del Muro gives us an account of a journalist's crisis of conscience; Tony Press of a trial lawyer's first case on her own, both effective stories. Among the poetry, I liked Kristin Roedell's narrative "Family Law" best among a good lot. As a whole, an interesting gathering of crime literature that doesn't feel so much alien as simply having a slightly different emphasis from the typical issue of a cf magazine or the usual anthology in the field.

Bench Book by Charles Reynard 
Mother, With Child by Tony Press 
Family Law by Kristin Roedell 
Matt the Closer by Jeffrey A. Dickerson 
The Barrister by John Lambremont, Sr. 
Old Soldiers by Randall Patterson 
Pled by Cynthia Schwartzberg Edlow 
Serves You Right by Jack Ewing 
Leaving the Station by Michael Del Muro 
Gone Accourting by Liz Hufford 
retainers by Joseph A. Farina 
criminal courtroom by Joseph A. Farina 
principles of sentencing (juvenile court) by Joseph A. Farina 
transubstantiation by Joseph A. Farina 
Affirmed by Anthony J. Mohr 
May it Please the Court by Leslie B. Neustadt 
Amicus, Briefly by Juliet Hubbell 
Reading the PSI by Charles Reynard 
Huntz's Law by Tom Green 
Lord Coke Unbenched by Dan Gunter

Briefly, and in October it's almost mandatory, particularly for a lifelong horrorist such as myself, to deal with something eldritch, but I've finally read the August Derleth-annotated transcript of a symposium recorded on 24 October 1963 at the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, a discussion of Lovecraft and his influence featuring a panel including Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, writer Arthur Jean Cox, Sam Russell, and Riverside Quarterly editor Leland Sapiro, along with some comments and questions from the audience. Given that Bloch and Leiber were both helped and influenced by Lovecraft early in their careers and were the two most important exemplars of how to take his model for approaching the matter of horror fiction and improving upon it, it's useful, if not as comprehensive here as one could hope, to see how they thought about that influence and their respective takes on Lovecraft's work and legacy. Bloch unsurprisingly seems most taken by the interior aspects of what Lovecraft was getting at in his best work, the questions of identity and madness and usurpation from within; Leiber, also not too surprisingly, is at least as engaged by the larger implications, philosophically and otherwise, of humanity's not terribly secure foothold in Lovecraft's universe. The notion that such non-fans of Lovecraft as Avram Davidson and Edmund Wilson had more in common with him than their experience of his work led them to believe is briefly if amusingly explored. Not as significant as some of Leiber and Bloch's other considerations of Lovecraft, but useful to read, and one's suspicions of what August Derleth made of what he was transcribing and annotating, particularly when it touches on his own involvement with Lovecraft's body of work, are mildly telling.

For more of today's books (and perhaps magazines), please see Patti Abbott's blog.


Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Great combination Todd, the lumpen proletariat meets the Great Old Ones - poifect! There are days like that, clearly ...

Todd Mason said...

Well...these stories are mostly about the vanguard and their peers who might be hoping to aid the proles...and much of what the discussion around HPL gets at is how much more universal his concerns were (hence, in part, the careers of Bloch and Leiber) than they might seem...Thou Art Cthulhu. Or so you reasonably fear.

So...all days are like this, to some degree...

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

This is where my ignorance of HPL comes the fore (read a little of him in my teens but not since, unlike Bloch, Leiber, Kuttner etc). So, for instance, who would have been the target readership for Weird Tales in the 1930s?

Todd Mason said...

Lovecraft's usually atrocious prose affectations make him easy to continue not reading, too often. You should definitely read the SYMPOSIUM at the very least, it's a good gloss on the participants' take on HPL.

Anyone who craved the exotic would've been essentially the target audience for Farnsworth Wright's WEIRD TALES (recall its short-lived companion ORIENTAL STORIES/MAGIC CARPET)...and they would've had to put up the results of his editorial crotchets, which were even more pronounced and to that extent partially self-defeating than John W. Campbell's...Wright was more prone to reject work that he really shouldn't have (Campbell often had the good sense to take excellent work even when it got under his skin enough to make him resent it...the CITY stories of Clifford Simak, or "E for Effort' by T. L. Sherred, for example...Campbell famously bought the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories from Leiber for UNKNOWN while complaining that they really were better suited for WEIRD TALES, and Leiber could only agree...but perhaps the prose was a little too subtle for Wright). Donald Wollheim was among those who felt Dorothy McIlwraith's editing of WEIRD TALES was tone-deaf in comparison to the (too often purple) stylization of what Wright favored...but, by me, and by Mike Ashley and some others, her WEIRD TALES was the better magazine. (Wollheim's AVON FANTASY READER was in part his sort of revival, continuation and tribute of and to the Wright WEIRD TALES.)

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Thanks for all this Todd - a fascinating era.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

PS will definitely follow up on those links.

Mathew Paust said...

You come up with the neatest things here. I was spawned in August Derleth country but never met him or read him. My dad poisoned my child's mind disparaging Derleth as "nuts" and an asshole because he married a "girl young enuf to be his daughter!!!" The old man preferred Spillane.

Todd Mason said...

Derleth, quite aside from any cradle-robbing, had an interesting literary career...regional contemporary mimetic fiction and historical fiction set in the Midwest, good horror in his own voice and rather sad attempts to make Lovecraft fragments fit into a Christian framework, all those Solar Pons stories (his Sherlock Holmes pastiche) and even some labor journalism (I can see how a Spillane fan might even have a political bone to pick with him). And, of course, Arkham House, and his other editorial work.

Thanks! As BYE BYE BIRDIE didn't quite put it, "There's plenty of stuff/That nobody's seen'/We've got a lot of readin' to do..."

Todd Mason said...

Sergio--I'm listening to a speech by Fritz Leiber from 1977, where he mentions that Farnsworth Wright rejected in 1936 the first Fafhrd & Gray Mouser story, "Adept's Gambit"...for "too many stylistic novelties"...of course, it didn't appear in UNKNOWN, either.