Friday, December 22, 2017

Friday's Forgotten Books: 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

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 FictionNational ReviewGalaxy 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. 

A redux post from 2013.
For more of this week's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog 


Anonymous said...

A always Todd, you make me want to drop everything and get my copy of the Sturgeon off the shelf and read it right now - just as well I hope to have some free time this Christmas! Thanks chum :)

Mike Stamm said...

I think HORROR STORIES FROM... was the first anthology of its kind I ever saw, if you don't count the much lighter-in-tone kiddie ghost and spook stories from Arrow Books and Scholastic. And it made a *huge* impression on me, and remains a favorite to this day. (20 years ago or so I managed to get a copy of the complete hardcover.) For some reason, the otherwise unknown Stephen Hall's "By One, by Two and by Three" really struck a nerve, remaining in essence in my memory long after I lost track of the book and forgot who wrote the story (I wasn't to retrieve a copy of TTBTITD for probably a dozen years or more). Ditto for the anonymous "The Closed Cabinet," which was dramatized to mostly mediocre effect on THRILLER. Thanks for posting this.

Dennis Lien said...

re your review/comments on Hearn's story in TALES TO BE TOLD IN THE
DARK in the latest Forgotten Books post--

""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). "

One reprint of "Mujina" is in the Jack Adrian anthology ASH-TREE PRESS
ANNUAL MACABRE: 1995, sutitle HAVEN'T I READ THIS BEFORE, the premise
of which is classic macabre stories whose theme/plot/kicker was
repurposed (deliberately or accidentally or anywhere in between) by
later authors in other stories. For "Mujina," Adrian suggests
influence of the surprise face revelation ending on these other works:

"The Follower" by Cynthia Asquith
"The Step" (a.k.a. "The Face") by E.F. Benson
"One Who Saw" by A.M. Burrage

Just in case one of those was the story you were thinking of...

Todd Mason said...

Thanks, gentlemen. Denny, it was almost certainly the Benson, as "The Face", I was thinking of. Sergio, you are too kind, but it's never a Bad time to dip back into some Sturgeon. Mike, "The Closed Cabinet" didn't do much for me, but I did like the book a lot despite how much space that story takes up...fond even of the goofy pun anecdote/joke/stories, which were the only ones I've ever retold to others. To mild appreciation! Yes, that was a relatively mild episode of THRILLER, wasn't it?