Friday, September 30, 2016

FFB Redux for Anthologies week: PARTNERS IN WONDER by Harlan Ellison and collaborators; best of the year 1978 short fiction anthologies

I've had a few too many All-Night sessions of various taxing sorts over the last few months, and last night was yet, as the most monotonously anthology (and fiction-magazine)-oriented of FFBers, a redux post of two of the reviews from past years that perhaps could use a few more eye tracks...sorry if you find them a bit slight or overfamiliar!  TM (Please see Patti Abbott's blog for the fresher examples from other contributors!)

The Contento Index:

Partners in Wonder Harlan Ellison (Walker, 1971, hc)
· Sons of Janus · in [now-dead link]
· I See a Man Sitting on a Chair, and the Chair Is Biting His Leg · Harlan Ellison & Robert Sheckley · nv F&SF Jan ’68
· Brillo · Harlan Ellison & Ben Bova · nv Analog Aug ’70
· A Toy for Juliette · Robert Bloch · ss Dangerous Visions, ed. Harlan Ellison, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967
· The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World · nv Dangerous Visions, ed. Harlan Ellison, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967
· Scherzo for Schizoids: Notes on a Collaboration · Harlan Ellison & Avram Davidson · ms Knight Nov ’65
· Up Christopher to Madness · Harlan Ellison & Avram Davidson · ss Knight Nov ’65
· Runesmith · Harlan Ellison & Theodore Sturgeon · ss F&SF May ’70
· Rodney Parish for Hire · Harlan Ellison & Joe L. Hensley · ss Swank May ’62
· The Kong Papers · Harlan Ellison & William Rotsler · ct The Kong Papers, William Rotsler & Harlan Ellison, 1969
· The Human Operators · Harlan Ellison & A. E. van Vogt · ss F&SF Jan ’71
· Survivor No. 1 [“The Man with the Green Nose”] · Harlan Ellison & Henry Slesar · ss Knave Sep ’59
· The Power of the Nail · Harlan Ellison & Samuel R. Delany · ss Amazing Nov ’68
· Wonderbird · Harlan Ellison & Algis Budrys · ss Infinity Science Fiction Sep ’57
· The Song the Zombie Sang · Harlan Ellison & Robert Silverberg · ss Cosmopolitan Dec ’70
· Street Scene [“Dunderbird”] · Harlan Ellison & Keith Laumer · ss Galaxy Jan ’69; this story has two different endings. The version with the Ellison ending was in Galaxy, the version with the Laumer ending was in Adam Mar ’69 as “Street Scene”.
· Come to Me Not in Winter’s White · Harlan Ellison & Roger Zelazny · ss F&SF Oct ’69

There are certain books which will change your life, though usually only very slightly. This was one of those more potent ones for me, as a young reader, which more than any other early reading experience brought home the sense of a writer's life and the community of writers. It's available as an e-book, which is the source of the link to the introduction [since removed from the web, apparently], but I read the Pyramid edition with the Leo and Diane Dillon cover design pictured here, part of the series they did of Ellison paperbacks for the publisher (some reissued by Jove after the purchase). This is almost certainly the only version of an Ellison book to be blurbed with the employment of Jimmie Walker's mid-'70s catchphrase. (The painting they did for the hardcover, below, rather better.)

The stories here, in what was the first collection of collaborations between one writer and several others that Ellison was aware of (I think there was at least one previous example, but it eludes me at the moment), are a mixed lot (and include a series of cartoons with William Rotsler which struck me as Just OK even when I was ten, not Rotsler's best work in the form, certainly--though I'm still fond of Fay Wray in the clutches of the big ape as he scales the Empire State, and someone shouting up from below, "Trip him, Fay!"). Even the best of them are almost invariably not quite up to the best of either collaborator, but they do have a special flavor...even when, as with the the two stories by Robert Bloch and Harlan Ellison individually, the collaboration is more along the lines of nudging inspiration...resulting in a decent Bloch story, since his was merely commissioned for Dangerous Visions, and a rather better sequel to that story by Ellison, who was mildly obsessed with what he was asking Bloch to do (both stories being sequels to Bloch's early story "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper," one of those stories which follow their creators around for their entire careers, and one of the most widely plagiarized stories written in the last century). The antic comedies, such as the Laumer and Davidson collaborations, are often more successful than the attempts at more serious work, but the darker humor of the Sheckley and Silverberg stories are certainly effective. And, of course, while I'd read a few Davidson stories before this book (in anthologies attributed to Hitchcock), this was the first opportunity I had to read Davidson's delightful nonfiction, in this case an acocunt of an incident that Ellison also recounts, and the comparison of the two versions is telling and extremely entertaining.

And the Bova story, "Brillo," was even ripped off for at least two tv series, though only actionably for one.

Still a valuable read, and the ancillary material might be Ellison at his best at this, at which he is one of the best.

For more "Forgotten" Books, please see Patti Abbott's blog, though updates will be delayed while she Shakespeares.

The first edition, from Walker & Co.

FFB: the best short stories of 1978 (the year I started reading new short fiction in earnest) as judged by the annual editors...

I picked up (either purchased or found in libraries) all these volumes (with the exception of the Pushcart item) back when, and I was fascinated not only by the contents themselves but also by the choices made among the short fiction published in 1978, a good chunk of which I'd read as it was offered in the magazines and original anthologies (though I didn't yet have access to little magazines--I read The Atlantic Monthly by year's end and looked at The New Yorker and some of the other newsstand titles). Looking at their contents now, I'm impressed, if  not universally, any more than I was back then, by the quality of the selection--it was a good year to start reading new short fiction in bulk, though it's usually if not always a good year to do so. It's rather telling that the fantasy (and horror) volumes have no overlap or shared stories, and neither do the eclectic/contemporary mimetic volumes, but the sf volumes certainly do. Also notable to me, as it was then, how certain books demonstrate, if not the desire to include Names at the cost of quality, then at least a certain kindness or nostalgia toward some of the writers...certainly Terry Carr, in the first two volumes of his fantasy annual, included two of the worst Stephen King stories I've least Gerald Page and Ed Hoch selected rather better, though not Year's Best, stories from King for their books. The Stephen Donaldson story was also not up to most of the rest of the Carr fantasy selections. Lin Carter likewise could let nostalgia and desire to play up Conan and such overwhelm his annual, but Arthur Saha, who would inherit the series on his own after Carter's death, probably was already being felt in this volume in some of the more innovative choices.

Multiple appearances across several volumes include those of John Varley, with four appearances of two different stories (three reprints of "The Persistence of Vision"), four appearances with three different stories for Michael Bishop and three with three for Thomas Disch (the O. Henry volume was indexed for WorldCat by a proud fellow Minnesotan), three inclusions of two stories by Gregory Benford, likewise three inclusions for two stories by Joan D. Vinge, and, as noted, three appearances with three different stories by Stephen King. It really was a very good year for Disch and Bishop amd Janet Fox.

Among the particularly brilliant stories (among many) I remember are Dennis Etchison's "The Pitch" (Horror), Bill Pronzini's "Strangers in the Fog" (Detective),  Fox's "Demon and Demoiselle" (Carter/Saha Fantasy), and Gregory Benford's squicky "In Alien Flesh" (several). John Varley's "The Persistence of Vision" certainly blew me (and the award voters) away in 1978 and into the next year, though even from the first reading it struck me as more fantasy than sf, and perhaps in more than one way (though Varley's sexual libertinism certainly struck a chord with 13yo me, and I'm somewhat in sympathy with that attitude still, with certain reservations).  Look at all that established and emerging talent in the Pushcart...and all the others...

The Year’s Best Horror Stories: Series VII ed. Gerald W. Page (DAW 0-87997-476-1, Jul ’79, $1.95, 221pp, pb)

The Year’s Finest Fantasy Volume 2 ed. Terry Carr (Berkley 0-425-04155-7, Jul ’79, $1.95, 311pp, pb); Series continued with Fantasy Annual III.

The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories: 5 ed. Lin Carter  and Arthur W. Saha (DAW 0-87997-510-5, Jan ’80, $1.95, 204pp, pb)

The 1979 Annual World’s Best SF ed. Donald A. Wollheim & Arthur W. Saha (DAW 0-87997-459-1, May ’79, $2.25, 268pp, pb)
  • 7 · Introduction · Donald A. Wollheim · in
  • 11 · Come to the Party · Frank Herbert & F. M. Busby · ss Analog Dec ’78
  • 37 · Creator · David Lake · nv Envisaged Worlds, ed. Paul Collins, Void, 1978
  • 64 · Dance Band on the Titanic · Jack L. Chalker · nv IASFM Jul/Aug ’78
  • 87 · Cassandra · C. J. Cherryh · ss F&SF Oct ’78
  • 96 · In Alien Flesh · Gregory Benford · nv F&SF Sep ’78
  • 122 · SQ · Ursula K. Le Guin · ss Cassandra Rising, ed. Alice Laurance, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1978
  • 133 · The Persistence of Vision · John Varley · na F&SF Mar ’78
  • 181 · We Who Stole the Dream · James Tiptree, Jr. · nv Stellar #4, ed. Judy-Lynn del Rey, Ballantine, 1978
  • 206 · Scattershot · Greg Bear · nv Universe 8, ed. Terry Carr, Doubleday, 1978
  • 239 · Carruthers’ Last Stand · Dan Henderson · nv Analog Jun ’78

The Best Science Fiction of the Year # 8 ed. Terry Carr (Ballantine 0-345-28083-0, Jul ’79, $2.25, 372pp, pb)

The Best Science Fiction Novellas of the Year #1 ed. Terry Carr (Ballantine, Sep ’79, 328pp, pb)

Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year (1978) ed. Gardner R. Dozois (Elsvier-Dutton, 1979, hc); Also in pb (Dell Aug ’80).

courtesy WorldCat: 

Best detective stories of the year, 1979 ; 33rd annual collection  
edited by Edward D. Hoch. 
New York : E.P. Dutton, 1979. 209 pages

Quitters, Inc. / Stephen King --
Little paradise / Zena Collier --
The man in the lake / Ernest Savage --
Strangers in the fog / Bill Pronzini --
Delayed mail / Jack Ritchie --
Filmflam / Francis M. Nevins --
The fire man / Elizabeth A. Lynn --
The adventure of the blind alley / Edward Wellen --
The cloud beneath the eaves / Barbara Owens --
The closed door / Thomas Walsh --
Truth will out / Ruth Rendell --
Checkpoint Charlie / Brian Garfield --
Rite of Spring / Jerry Jacobson --
The golden circle / Patricia L. Schulze --
Captain Leopold Incognito / Edward D. Hoch --
The leech / Frank Sisk.

courtesy Contento/Stephensen-Payne Miscellaneous Anthologies:

The Best American Short Stories 1979 

ed. Joyce Carol Oates & Shannon Ravenel (Houghton Mifflin, 1979, tp)

[This citation in WorldCat is annoyingly shorthanded...particularly where the writer's name isn't so obvious as with Herbert Gold or Alice Adams.]
Prize stories 1979 : the O. Henry Awards  edited and with an introduction by William Abrahams. 

"Includes story by Minnesota author Thomas M. Disch."

Weaver, G. Getting serious.--
Bromell, H. Travel stories.--
Hecht, J.I want you, I need you, I love you.--
Goldberg, L. Shy bearers.--
Heller, S. The summer game.--
Pfeil, F. The quality of light in Maine.--
Leaton, A. The passion of Marco Z--.--
Thomas, A. Coon hunt.--
Molyneux, T.W. Visiting the point.--
Oates, J.C. In the autumn of the year.--
Baumbach, J. Passion?--
Zelver, P. My father's jokes.--
Gold, H. The smallest part.--
Van Dyke, H. Du Côté de Chez Britz.--
Smith, L. Mrs. Darcy meets the blue-eyed stranger at the beach.--
Caputi, A. The derby hopeful.--
Schwartz, L.S. Rough strife.--
Yates, R. Oh, Joseph, I'm so tired.--
Peterson, M. Travelling.--
Disch, T.M. Xmas.--
Adams, A. The girl across the room.  

  The Pushcart prize, IV : best of the small presses  
edited by Bill Henderson.   591 pages

Introduction : about Pushcart Prize, IV --
Home / by Jayne Anne Phillips --
From laughing with one eye / by Gjertrud Schnackenberg Smyth --
A renewal of the word / by Barbara Myerhoff --
Ice / by AI --
In another country / by James Laughlin --
The daisy dolls / by Felisberto Hernández --
Snow owl / by Dave Smith --
Lot's wife / by Kristine Batey --
The stone crab : a love poem / by Robert Phillips --
Night flight to Stockholm / by Dallas Wiebe --
Literature and ecology: an experiment in ecocriticism / by William Rueckert --
Ghosts like them / by Shirley Ann Taggart --
Elegy / by David St. John --
The ritual of memories / by Tess Gallagher --
Plowing with elephants / by Lon Otto --
Meeting Mescalito at Oak Hill Cemetery / by Lorna Dee Cervantes --
A Jean-Marie cookbook / by Jeff Weinstein --
dg The politics of anti-realism / by Gerald Graff --
Winter sleep / by Mary Oliver --
Wildflower / by Stanley Plumly --
Letters from a father / by Mona Van Duyn --
Early winter / by Max Schott --
My work in California / by James B. Hall --
The ownership of the night / by Larry Levis --
The Spanish image of death / by César Vallejo --
For Papa (and Marcus Garvey) / by Thadious M. Davis --
A vision expressed by a series of false statements / by John Love --
Jeffrey, believe me / by Jane Smiley --
Sweetness, a thinking machine / by Joe Ashby Porter --
To Ed Sissman / by John Updike --
The man whose blood tilted the earth / by M.R. Doty --
Lawrence at Taos / by Shirley Kaufman --
Contemporary poetry and the metaphors for the poem / by Charles Molesworth --
Another Margot chapter / by R.C. Day --
Sitting up, standing, taking steps / by Ron Silliman --
Made connections / by Michael Harper --
Anonymous courtesan in a jade shroud / by Brenda Hillman -
A woman in love with a bottle / by Barbara Lovell ---
Proteus / by Judith Hoover --
Quinnapoxet / by Stanley Kunitz --
Things that happen where there aren't any people / by William Stafford --
Lechery / by Jayne Anne Phillips --
Civilization and isolation / by Vine Deloria --
from Kiss of the spider woman / by Manual Puig --
Running away from home / by Carolyn Kizer --
The biography man / by Gary Reilly --
The nerves of a midwife: contemporary American women's poetry / by Alicia Ostriker --
Forgive us / by George Venn --
The hat in the swamp / by Paul Metcalf --
These women / by Christine Schutt --
Johnny Appleseed / by Susan Schaefer Neville --
Some carry around this / by Susan Strayer Deal --
The stonecutter's horses / by Robert Bringhurst --
Grandmother (1895-1928) / by Cleopatra Mathis --
Rich / by Ellen Gilchrist --
Pig 311 / by Margaret Ryan --
American poetry: looking for a center / by Ishmael Reed-
I show the daffodils to the retarded kids / by Constance Sharp --
Dream / by John Willson --
Living with animals / by Margaret Kent --
The trial of Rozhdestvov / by Russian Samizdat --
Contributors notes --
Outstanding writers --
Outstanding small presses.

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


Saturday, September 24, 2016

1st draft, first passages: Camilla Ann Mason, nee Rocchi...Micci...Mom 1937-2016

Mostly getting it down here, so that I can cut and know where to fill in what missing data I can gather. Probably won't be electrifying and, at first at least, too TM-centric, though I'll try to avoid that last as much as possible. 

My mother, Camilla Ann Mason, was born 9 February 1937,  the second to last child of Dora Mae Rocchi, nee Ratliff, and Andy Eurigo Rocchi. Her siblings, I believe in correct chronological order of arrival, were Mary (who married and took the name Coldiron) aka Sis, Leoma aka Ney (first Hall, and after her first husband Kelly died, whom I knew well when I was a young child, she eventually married Charlie) Broker, Lucille (Lambert), James "Jock" Rocchi (whose wife, Connie, was probably the closest to us, Micci's kids, of the in-laws/aunts and uncles after the Alaska years--my first almost five, and before my brother was born), Lucille (Lambert), Louis Rocchi, Sylvia Nierman, Ruby A. Rocchi (about here, who died in infancy when left in the insufficient care of some subset of her insufficiently attentive or experienced older siblings and caught something that she just couldn't fight off), Andy (who picked up the unenviable family nickname Piddle--don't know if anyone ever wised off about Piddle and Jock), then Micci, then Sarah (Cochenour at time of death)...the baby of the family, she passed a couple of years before Mom, in part due to one of the traits we tend to share, diabetes (I'm the lucky one that way in our nuclear unit).

Aunt Ruby wasn't the only Rocchi to come to an untimely end. Andy Eurigo, how he came by "Andy" I don't know yet, came into the U.S. from Milan via San Francisco, rather than Ellis Island, at the turn of the last century...somehow, he made his way to the coal mines of West Virginia, where he met the young Dora Mae, who had been on her own by the age of 13...of Cherokee and some Irish ancestry, a long line in the mountains and hills, after the early waves of immigration and those who evaded the forced marches of the Trail of Tears. Eurigo, for whom my sister Claire was initially named in part I believe, was apparently liked well enough by his bosses to get some sort of supervisory role, and reportedly that didn't sit well with a colleague, who rigged a cave-in to create a vacancy. Which it did, when my mother was about six. She barely remembered her father; she remembered how much he reviled Mussolini. Her mother never remarried, supplemented her widow's pension with I'm not sure what kind of work, apparently eventually had a busy social life. Saturday night, and then Sunday morning at the Church of God Dora Mae and Eurigo had joined together (he couldn't find a Catholic church at that time if he'd wanted to, I gather, around Welch). The kids all got a start there, but Mom was pretty turned off by it at a young age...perhaps disapproval of a merry-enough widowed mother, perhaps other sorts of hypocrisy. Camilla was a Christian all her life, and never a member of a church again. 

Andy's son Andy became a truck driver, which was one way not to go down into the mines. But he did go into the wrong bar one night, and someone came up behind him, as the story goes, and brained him. Sometime in the mid '60s, 1967 if I remember correctly...if I ever met him, I was an infant.  

But between the death of her father and moving out on her own at the turn of the '60s, Micci had a fairly good time of it...popular and pretty, gregarious throughout her life, she enjoyed her high school years, she told me, and had boyfriends who, for example, let her do a little spinning and patter on their local radio shows. After high school, she took secretarial courses, got an Associates degree at a community college, and soon moved with her lifelong friend Connie to Alexandria, Virginia, where she initially worked for an optometrist, but soon took her first Civil Service job, with the National Archives. She met a man, who happened to be an airplane pilot (if I remember correctly), things got pretty serious, they got engaged...and he took a bush pilot flying job based in Fairbanks, Alaska, of all places. 

Which didn't work out too badly for Mom, as her sister Leoma was already living in Fairbanks, with Kelly and their kids, and Micci was able to land a job as a secretary with the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration, in Fairbanks. Done deal. Till she arrived, to find that her fiance had been playing around during the interim between his arrival in Alaska, and hers...and she wouldn't tolerate that. But she was there, initially living with Leoma and Kelly, and over the next few months, a young technician, mostly working on radar stations and other air traffic electronics around the state for the Administration, and she began to hit it off. I suspect his hobbies such as auto racing and mountain climbing didn't put her off...she eventually was willing to play along with the auto racing, at least (in the cross country races, she served as navigator). She married her new beau, Robert Mason, Bob to most people, Rob to her, on 25 October 1963. They bought a house, settled in, joined a bowling league, and decided to become parents. (Big mistake, as you can guess.) Sometime in the typically dark not quite polar winter of 1963, not long after 23 November, they successfully conceived your undersigned. As if to warn them of the error, on 27 March  1964, the worst recorded earthquake in North America (second strongest recorded so far worldwide) beat the hell out of Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska, and Kodiak and the towns on its southern coast (and attendant tsunamis took casualties as far away as California), but five hundred miles inland, near the center of the state, Fairbanks wasn't too badly hurt. Sadly, not all my parents' friends were so fortunate. I arrived independently and volubly on the scene in August, no doubt anticlimactically. 

Nasty neighbors led to relocation from one Fairbanks house to another, and in 1965 Kelly borrowed my father's brand new Jaguar to take a spin, and didn't realize the semi he was trying to pass on the left was just about to make the kind of wide left turn they do on a narrow highway; the car was totaled and Kelly laid up for a while. But the worst tragedy they had to muscle through was probably the 1967 Chena River flood, which eventually put about 3-4 feet of water into our house and many of the houses around the city for several days. They had a lot of interactions with insurance agencies in those years, and faced a mountain of mother went back to work for the FAA by the time I was about two, with my cousins as primary sitters for me when available, and the next door neighbors the Mendenhalls, particularly Mrs. Lois and their daughter Theresa. Aside from the Mendenhalls, their best friends in Alaska were a couple also associated with the FAA, Rae and Andy Billick. What I remember best about Alaska are mostly very good things: my parents teaching me to read with Dr. Seuss, Little Golden Books and the like; hanging out with a Native nations girl, also 4, and her 3yo brother, whose backyard adjoined our next-door neighbors' (I remember finding their mother very pretty as well as very kind to me), and with one or two others on our street; I remember my rocking-horse toy and backyard swing set.

By 1969, my parents were ready to leave Alaska, mostly with the prospect of a promotion for my father; he'd be working in Airway Facilities in the New England sector of the FAA, based in Boston at Logan Airport, and my mother would take another FAA secretarial position there; we drove from Fairbanks to Oklahoma City in the summer of '69, in a pickup truck with a camper conversion; only two could sit in the cab at a time, so much of the trip I was up in my bunk above the cab (not recommended for 4yos  in most auto safety manuals these days, I'm sure), reading or staring out the front window next to the bunk. Or I'd sit up front with one or another of my parents, while the other rode in the camper space, sitting at the kitchenette or getting a nap. We spent a couple of months in OKC so that my father could be trained in Lawton, at an FAA academy there, and then onto our new house in West Peabody, Massachusetts. The disruption of their lives by leaving their friends and family in Alaska didn't do them any favors, I think, and the Boston area isn't the warmest welcome for newcomers at the best of times; they were still paying down debt and had some difficulty securing day care/after school day care for me, as I continued the Kindergarten that had begun in Oklahoma, and then went onto elementary school in 1970. My parents were making do, and a little better than that, when my mother found herself, slightly surprisingly given some precautions they'd taken, pregnant again in the spring of 1970; she worked up till it became problematic, and on 25 January 1971, a second child, Jeri Claire Mason, arrived. I was fascinated. By the time I was seven, I was changing the occasional (very occasional) diaper, with these new paper/plastic disposables now on the market. I had had several infant health scares over the first couple of years (why my teeth are beige, as I was one of the lucky mid-'60s tetracycline babies--never have tried to get them capped, it never seemed the most urgent matter to attend to); Claire, despite being misdiagnosed as allergic to milk products (and therefore one of the early enjoyers of soy baby formula, not cheap atop other expenses), was otherwise mostly healthy; apparently I had been a rather quiet baby; Claire not so much. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

FFB: SELECTED STORIES by Fritz Leiber (Night Shade Books 2010); SELECTED STORIES by Theodore Sturgeon (Vintage/Random House 2000); VIRTUAL UNREALITIES: THE SHORT FICTION OF ALFRED BESTER (Vintage/Random House 1997)

The publishing of some of the most innovative and influential writers in fantastic fiction, when they are not also among the most consistently best-selling, is too often a catch as catch can matter, much as it is with similar work in other fields...there's a somewhat less profound resistance to commercial publication of short fiction collections in fantasy, science fiction, horror and their related fields than there is in much of the rest of the literature, but even there, consistent programs are rare...hence the value of the best such project in the field so far, Paul Williams and company's The Complete Short Stories of Theodore Sturgeon. But even given any of the individual volumes of that project, or its similar cousins, is a very good reading experience indeed, the sets taken as a whole are not the most wieldy items in any library, and might not be the best way to introduce new readers to the writers in question. And, sadly, some writers, such as Fritz Leiber, have never had a systematic presentation of the range of  their work, even when important subsets of that work have been presented rather well (in his case, his extremely influential sword & sorcery series of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, as well as a set of non-overlapping career retrospectives in the 1970s).  There's usually a place in the canons for something like the old Viking Press series of Portable selections of writers' works, only perhaps without the novels or excerpts that series usually featured along with the shorter fiction, poetry and nonfiction. This week, three such collections, all excellent, imperfect representations of or introductions to their authors, responsibly (if in one case oddly anonymously) edited and reasonably well-presented by their publishers, the notable small press Night Shade for the Leiber, the "prestige" paperback line Vintage,  by design devoted to canonical work, for the two other collections.

And while there are other writers, women as well as men, who are comparable in importance to the three men whose books make a convenient trio for this installment, these three have more than a little in common...each being one of the major shapers of fantastic fiction as it was published in the magazines devoted to that fiction (let's call it in-group fantastic fiction, a tradition which has had extreme influence on and been influenced by even such writers who never felt completely a part of it as Kurt Vonnegut, J. R. R. Tolkien, Madeleine L'Engle and Jack Finney, moreso than those such as George Orwell and Philip Wylie who did some similar work but mostly didn't interact with the specialists in the fantastic to the same degree). Each of our selected trio this week were comfortable in fantasy, horror and sf and beyond those fields (even if to varying degrees influential in each), and each a notably good constructor of prose, far more easily readable by the usual standards of literature than many of their similarly influential peers who began publishing their work at the turn of the 1940s. This is not so true of, say, one of Leiber's mentors, H. P. Lovecraft (Leiber and Robert Bloch being the best and most important writers who corresponded directly with Lovecraft as they were finding their feet as professional writers, and both would take Lovecraft's innovations and do impressive work furthering that innovation).  All three writers also were notably engaged by subtleties of character and psychological nuance that were often less obvious in the work of some of their peers, whose strengths often lay elsewhere (these three not collectively uniquely so, but they were among the great practitioners of this aspect of the art). 

Fritz Leiber was sometimes the most subtle of the three, and the one who probably offered the most impressive conceptual advances in his work; such stories in this volume as "Smoke Ghost" and "Coming Attraction" revolutionized horror and sf, respectively, genuinely shaking up many readers and even more nudging the writers within the in-groups so affected to reconsider how they were approaching their subject matter; "Smoke Ghost," as Algis Budrys noted, by itself almost singlehandedly created what we now think of as urban fantasy in a mature form, while "Coming Attraction" not only dealt deftly and satirically with a decaying society after a not-quite apocalyptic war, but also challenged in-group folks directly in how the characters were portrayed, suggesting hidden agendas and complexity that went beyond the rather schematic standard in sf at that was also a bit more challenging than the standard at that time in the noirish and hardboiled crime fiction Leiber was also fond of, and infrequently would write. "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes" was a reconsideration of vampirism in a rather more metaphorical sense than had often been put forward previously, and the feminist undertone of that story, as with Leiber's early novel Conjure Wife and such later stories as "A Deskful of Girls" was another sort of challenge (where Leiber's omission of the word "woman" in each case is telling, and I believe utterly intended by him). Such stories as "A Pail of Air" demonstrate Leiber's ability to bring outre situations very much to life (in a way not altogether unlike, say, the "hard-science" specialist Hal Clement or the relentlessly conceptualizing Charles Harness might), while other stories in his volume touch on his fascinations and obsessions, while at times reflecting his lighter (but in no case here trivial) work, as well as the profound thread of autobiography that ran through much of his best fiction. "Space-Time for Springers" deals charmingly with cats and particularly Gummitch, but also with the insecurities of parenting an infant and the grim cost that can have even given the rewards; "Four Ghosts in Hamlet" touches on the dramatic and particularly, obviously, Shakespeare (Leiber and more thoroughly his parents were professional actors, the latter running their own Shakespearean troupe); "The Inner Circles" (which Leiber preferred to be titled "The Winter Flies") was one of three 1960s not-quite-fantasies in the form of augmented plays for voices that were acutely autobiographical, dealing with Leiber's inner turmoil and relations with his parents, his wife (and their chemical dependencies) and their son. "Midnight by the Morphy Watch" involves chess (Leiber was a US Chess Federation Grandmaster) as a starting point. Three Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories are included, in the order of their internal chronology, and each has its own freight of invention and also autobiographical resonance; the first in the sequence here, "Ill Met in Lankhmar," is one of the most devastating stories Leiber wrote, no less so when one realizes it was one of the stories he wrote in the aftermath of his wife's death and as he was recovering, and to help him do so, from the alcoholic tailspin that event put him into. "Gonna Roll the Bones" (again, intensely autobiographical, though less nakedly), "Belsen Express" and "Horrible Imaginings" were all further contributions to horror literature; "Catch That Zeppelin!" delightful alternative history fiction (or "counterfactual" if you like), "America the Beautiful" a solid example of his satire. 
Theodore Sturgeon was perhaps even more than the other two writers obsessed with how characters could be authentically portrayed in the situations he devised, some remarkably clever and often even more challenging to conventional values than Leiber's; where Leiber's prose could be grandly poetic, Sturgeon's tended to be more quietly so, more transparent but also capable of subtlety that could catch the reader off-guard; Ray Bradbury was famously a student of Sturgeon, particularly in his earliest and often best-loved work, and Stephen King of both men, but neither the slightly uncontrolled Bradbury nor the often prolix King have the mastery of prose technique the best mature work of Sturgeon demonstrates. Likewise, Kurt Vonnegut was always a somewhat confounded admirer of Sturgeon and his work, and Vonnegut's recurring character "Kilgore Trout" was a take on Sturgeon's talent and his often desperate financial state (and Vonnegut's own artistic insecurity about doing work not altogether unlike Sturgeon's). 

I believe a collection of Sturgeon's horror fiction, and only of his horror fiction, would still be a useful thing to have, but this selection comes closer to this than almost any other Sturgeon book (his two earliest collections rival it), with such devastating stories as "It", "A Way of Thinking", "Bianca's Hands" and to some extent "Mr. Costello, Hero" and several others here being of that mode, where genuinely terrifying or sometimes simply beautifully strange things are happening, with details that imbue the stories with deeply felt life; the conclusions of "It" (which I first read when I was about nine years old) and "A Way of Thinking" (a decade later) might stick with me for as long as memory serves me, and "Bianca" couldn't find a magazine that would publish it in the U. S. for several years; entered eventually into a contest at the U. K. magazine Argosy (unrelated except in eclecticism to the U. S. magazine of the same title), it won; a fine story by Graham Greene took second place.  "Costello" is, as are "Bright Segment" and "The Sex Opposite", somewhat more science-fictional than the other three, and none of those is quite what you'd call traditional horror, any more than the sf stories here are quite devoted to the usual approaches of science fiction. "Killdozer!" is a sort of sfnal horror, famously (due to a telefilm adaptation in the '70s as well as wide reprinting) about an alien intelligence which inhabits a bulldozer on an island construction site, is perhaps the closest to what might be considered a "generic" sf story, and that one not so close; likewise the nuclear war consideration "Thunder and Roses". Sturgeon is fascinated with love, famously, in many forms, but also with hatred and cold indifference (as "A Way of Thinking", "Costello" and "The Skills of Xanadu" make very clear), and, again, in often challenging ways; the metaphorical use of syzygy and synergy fascinated him, in terms of sexual and romantic interaction and in even more sweeping manners, as in the group minds and telepathic linkage touched on in some of the work here and in several of his novels; his fascination also with the artistic process comes clear in "Slow Sculpture" as well as in others, if less forthrightly. "The Man Who Lost the Sea" was one of only two stories, both from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (the other Judith Merril's "Dead Center"), to represent "in-group" fantastic fiction in The Best American Short Stories annual in the 1950s. Sturgeon noted once that one of the reasons for his considerations of unusual passions was that "Old-shoe lovers love loving old shoes..."; writer and critic James Blish correctly noted that they also often simultaneously hate and fear doing so.  I have yet to discover who edited this volume, which obscurity seems very strange. 

Selected Stories Theodore Sturgeon (Random House/Vintage 0-375-70375-6, Oct 2000, $14.00, 439pp, tp) Collection of 13 stories.
  • 3 · Thunder and Roses · ss Astounding Nov ’47
  • 27 · The Golden Helix · na Thrilling Wonder Stories Sum ’54
  • 83 · Mr. Costello, Hero · nv Galaxy Dec ’53
  • 109 · Bianca’s Hands · ss Argosy (UK) May ’47
  • 118 · The Skills of Xanadu · nv Galaxy Jul ’56
  • 146 · Killdozer! · na Aliens 4, Avon, 1959; revised from Astounding Nov ’44.
  • 216 · Bright Segment · nv Caviar, Ballantine, 1955
  • 241 · The Sex Opposite · nv Fantastic Fll ’52
  • 269 · The (Widget), the (Wadget), and Boff · na F&SF Nov ’55 (+1)
  • 353 · It · nv Unknown Aug ’40
  • 378 · A Way of Thinking · nv Amazing Oct/Nov ’53
  • 407 · The Man Who Lost the Sea · ss F&SF Oct ’59
  • 419 · Slow Sculpture · nv Galaxy Feb ’70
Alfred Bester, for his part, was also deeply invested in exploring character in fantastic situations, but even more than Sturgeon and Leiber was also intent on finding new ways to play around with prose forms, and engage in dazzling, breathless urgency in his work. Thus  a notable example and inspiration for such writers as Harlan Ellison, Philip K. Dick, Philip Jose Farmer, Samuel Delany, and the Cyberpunks, and even the usually more deliberate Damon Knight. He wanted to shake up the readers, not only in a challenge to their perceptions and preconceptions, but also with innovative concepts and settings and, again, an often highly kinetic pace and a audio/visual flair to his prose...though in none of the short stories collected here is that as blatant as in such novels as The Demolished Man, which had in its original serialization in Galaxy magazine many typographical variations to slightly odden the experience of reading the story, as well as help get across how the characters interacted (telepathically and otherwise), though sadly none of the reprints in book form so far have replicated the magazine's variant text (the much later novel Golem 100 had more modest attempts at something similar). Such stories as "5,271, 009" are in conventional typography, but nonetheless are delightfully intense reading experiences, in the often darkly funny expressions of borderline madness, and the impressively polyglot alien antagonist/mentor the protagonist encounters in a process of what amounts to both therapy for him and rather blatant but engaging metaphor for encouraging more mature attitudes in the audience. 

Bester wanted to pack as much into any story he was telling as he possibly could, and at his best, he was as in control of that abundance as Sturgeon and Leiber were of their effects; even the comparatively simple satire "They Don't Make Life Like They Used To" manages to run up to its many false climaxes (literal and figurative) with brio, while also being a bold metaphor and challenge to in-group literature to treat sexuality more sensibly and realistically. "Fondly Fahrenheit" is one of Bester's two most famous short fictions, a virtuosic portrayal of a multiple personality/psychiatric boundary collapse  (I don't, as many do, think it his best story aside from his three 1950s novels); "Adam and No Eve" is the other most famous, and the token first-decade-of-his-career entry, an ingenious (for the time revolutionary) notional story about how to at least hope to bring life back to Earth after armageddon (as with Stephen Vincent Benet's "By the Waters of Babylon", the apocalypse isn't nuclear war but might as well be). Brilliant time-travel paradox stories are cheek by jowl here with further explorations of psychology, but frantic energy and openness to insights developing in the popular and therapeutic culture beyond the in-group community were Bester's trademark, as a man devoted to comics scripting, then radio scripting, then travel and other slick feature-writing as his primary career, who looked upon fantastic fiction as his haven, but also a pack that needed prodding into keeping up with the changes in the rest of the world around it. While he was in many ways somewhat spent by the time of his last work, his best fiction of the 1950s and early '60s in the field, and some other stories before and after, was a great spur as well as a joy to read. While the older retrospective collection Starlight might do as well for most readers as this book (including as it does an engaging memoir essay), and the newer retrospective Redemolished includes even more representative a sampling of his nonfiction than Starlight, this one still moves.

Virtual Unrealities Alfred Bester (Random House/Vintage 0-679-76783-5, Nov ’97, $14.00, 366pp, tp) Collection of 16 stories and one fragment, one story and the fragment previously unpublished. Introduction by Robert Silverberg. Packaged by Byron Preiss Visual Publications.
  • ix · Introduction · Robert Silverberg · in
  • 3 · Disappearing Act · ss Star Science Fiction Stories #2, ed. Frederik Pohl, Ballantine, 1953
  • 22 · Oddy and Id [“The Devil’s Invention”] · ss Astounding Aug ’50
  • 38 · Star Light, Star Bright · ss F&SF Jul ’53
  • 56 · 5,271,009 · nv F&SF Mar ’54
  • 91 · Fondly Fahrenheit · nv F&SF Aug ’54
  • 112 · Hobson’s Choice · ss F&SF Aug ’52
  • 127 · Of Time and Third Avenue · ss F&SF Oct ’51
  • 136 · Time Is the Traitor · nv F&SF Sep ’53
  • 159 · The Men Who Murdered Mohammed · ss F&SF Oct ’58
  • 173 · The Pi Man · ss Star Light, Star Bright, Berkley/Putnam, 1976; revised from F&SF Oct ’59.
  • 191 · They Don’t Make Life Like They Used To · nv F&SF Oct ’63
  • 225 · Will You Wait? · ss F&SF Mar ’59
  • 233 · The Flowered Thundermug · nv The Dark Side of the Earth, Signet, 1964
  • 273 · Adam and No Eve · ss Astounding Sep ’41
  • 287 · And 3½ to Go · uw *
  • 292 · Galatea Galante · nv Omni Apr ’79
  • 334 · The Devil Without Glasses · nv *

You can do worse than these volumes, with their mostly intelligent introductions (Neil Gaiman is more certain of his understanding of Leiber's satirical use of male chauvinism in such work as Conjure Wife than he should be, given his description here) and selections I might tweak, but not change wholesale...and each is, as noted above, a good place to start with each writer. 

For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog. 
Indices from ISFDB and the Contento/Locus indices.

Friday, September 16, 2016

FFB: THE BIG BINGE aka IT'S ALL IN YOUR MIND by Robert Bloch (IMAGINATIVE TALES, July 1955; Curtis Books 1971; included in THE LOST BLOCH, V. 1: THE DEVIL WITH YOU!, Subterranean Press 1999; Pulpville Press 2006)

This short novel was the fourth and last fantasy cover story (which you can read at this link) in a row from Robert Bloch for the magazine Imaginative Tales, a sibling publication of Imagination and latterly Rogue, which began its run with two  issues featuring cover-stories from Charles Myers's imitation Thorne Smith fantasy series about the magical sprite Toffee and her human companions...IT's policy throughout its run was to feature at least one novella or short novel per issue, but this was the last issue to not have a definite slant toward science fiction rather than fantasy, and this one is by the wispiest of pretense a science-fantasy story...the magical shapeshifting and related abilities of the protagonist are driven by a machine which manifests his neuroses in a concrete manner  (if Bloch's approach hadn't been so cod-Freudian and he'd taken his concept at all seriously, he probably could've sold the story to John W.  Campbell, Jr. at Astounding Science isn't too far in concept from some of the "psi" stories JWC did publish...albeit it's also mildly bawdy enough to have given Campbell the vapors, as fitted the Thorne Smith tradition this story also follows, and the early policy of IT just before its skin magazine stablemate was launched).

Elmer Klopp (perhaps to help speed the plow while working through this pun-filled short novel, Bloch also indulges in comedy of humors character names...most of the other characters' names themselves relatively weak puns) is lured into an experiment that will, it is hoped, cure his neuroses, by his fellow university student Ada Noid, the charming daughter of famous Professor Perry Noid, the inventor of the psychopathfinder. The gadget, as noted above, physically manifests projections of the greatest fears and suppressed desires of those it's applied to ...beginning immediately, in his case, with the mostly unwanted ability to denude any person Elmer looks at. Inebriating himself to keep that telekinetic power in check leads to the manifestation of a pink elephant that wreaks mayhem on the university's Homecoming parade and ceremonies. (Unlike the pachyderm on Harold McCauley's magazine cover painting, reprinted as cover of the the most recent edition, the pink creature in the story is a full-sized adult elephant.) And so it goes for Klopp and his acquaintances throughout the story, as he continues to work through his id, splits into twelve more or less identical versions of himself, and reintegrates to becomes a gorilla, albeit one who can still speak intelligibly (and not quite McCauley's portrait of a chimpanzee/human hybrid), and as such runs afoul of a mixed bag of Leninist spies, and gangsters and vampires who work with them. 

It's all farcical enough to be amusing, while being most interesting as an example of Bloch applying his engagement with abnormal psychology, so famously explored in such crime fiction novels as The Kidnapper, Psycho and American Gothic, to materials which manage, like their model Thorne Smith's somewhat satirical fantasies, to walk a line between the purely humorous and carrying a certain dangerous weight to them, verging in undertone toward the horrific sort of fantasy. Horror and gentler humorous fantasy being two other notable components of Bloch's literary career, as a notable contributor to such other fantasy and horror fiction magazines as Weird Tales (where a young Bloch would contribute his earliest professional fiction, after having read for the first time the fiction of the writer soon to be his mentor, H. P. Lovecraft, and many others, in earlier issues), Fantastic Adventures (an almost direct ancestor of Imaginative Tales, where Bloch had contributed stories to an editorial staff including eventual IT editor and publisher William Hamling), and John Campbell's fantasy magazine Unknown...even as Bloch continued to contribute to such more influential contemporaries of IT as Beyond, Fantastic, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. While minor work, this novel does reward the student of Bloch, as well as anyone who can appreciate an elaborated pun amid any number of rather simpler ones (and a few jokes which take a rather casual view of certain kinds of criminal behavior).  

That kinship to his psychological suspense fiction was clearly exploited to the hilt by the Curtis Books package, which manages to portray the story as a more titillating cousin to The Scarf or Night-World, and even manages to capture an image (presumably of Klopp as shaven gorilla) on its uncredited cover painting that looks a bit like a more bug-eyed version of Stephen King, still a young adult  and obscure writer then, not long after King's first sale to Robert Lowndes's  magazine Startling Mystery Stories, his first professional sale after placing high in Scholastic Magazines' annual competition and publication in Literary Cavalcade. Though at least one reference refers to the Curtis edition being a longer form of the story, a spot check of the texts look identical to me in all the editions I have at hand.

The later two editions put the story in context among other more obscure examples of Bloch's work (the Pulpville edition also reprints, in "Ace Double" two-front-cover fashion, the third IT cover story by Bloch, "The Miracle of Robert Weems," a shorter novella, and the short autobiographical sketch by Bloch that was published in the same issue, linked to above, as "The Big Binge"). Aside from some questionably nonfictional fillers and a few minor cartoons, the only other items in the Imaginative Tales issue are Hamling's editorial and the novelette "...So Very Dark" by Daniel Galouye, a story which deals, in somewhat larval form, with Galouye's continuing fascination, throughout his brief literary career (he died relatively young, from complications of WW2 injuries), with motifs of "darkness" as metaphor for the subconscious, and the dangers of manipulation of perception of reality, particularly on the part of governments and other sorts of authority. Almost a child of Asimov's "Nightfall," this story, if rather more elaborated and set against a Cold War framework.

For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog, and spare a thought for those who are fortunate enough to attend the Bouchercon, the annual world convention for crime fiction writers, editors and other enthusiasts, now in progress in New Orleans, and those who have not been able to attend.

  • Publication: The Lost Bloch, Volume One: The Devil With You!I
  • Authors: Robert Bloch
  • Year: 1999-05-00
  • ISBN: 1-892284-19-7 [978-1-892284-19-8]
  • Publisher: Subterranean Press
  • Price: $40.00
  • Pages: 328
  • Binding: hc