Friday, September 28, 2018

FFB: THE DARK SIDE edited by Damon Knight (Doubleday, 1965)

from 1 January 2009:

How to label a horror anthology as sf:
Not too long ago, I encouraged Patti Abbott nee Nase (of pattinase --the collection locus for these Forgotten Books entries) to pick up one of the many cheap copies of Terry Carr and Martin Harry Greenberg's A Treasury of Modern Fantasy, a 1981 anthology of stories from the fantasy-fiction magazines. (I'll note that I had given away my copy a quarter-century ago to a very nice woman named Deanna Chang, whom whenever I ran into her on random occasions after our high school graduation I had a book in hand and felt generous...she also got a copy of Judith Merril's annual SF 12 that way, and I hope she enjoyed them). I have since picked up a cheap copy likewise, and recently reread the introduction of that fine if not superb anthology, wherein the editors, the late Mr. Carr and the [then] still very active [since, alas, late] Prof. Greenberg congratulate themselves for producing the first fantasy-fiction anthology to draw entirely from the fantasy fiction magazines...and attempt at being comprehensive while doing so. (It wasn't, exactly, the first, but it was a pretty impressive example...if less comprehensive than it could've been.)

While there had been best-ofs of various magazines at that time--quite a number of nondefinitive collections from Weird Tales, at least three from Unknown, at least one from 
Fantasticone each surveying Beyond and Fantastic Universe, and a long and up till then fairly regular series from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, there hadn't been (arguably) a volume which concentrated on fantasy, rather than horror or more eclectic assemblies, through the decades of the fantasy magazines.

But there had been predecessors for which one can make the case that they were meant to do something very similar, and this book, the first fantasy anthology Damon Knight edited (although his magazine Worlds Beyond in 1950 had stressed fantasy in its mix of fantastic fiction), is certainly one of them. Fortunately or unfortunately, it was published by Doubleday in 1965 in its Doubleday Science Fiction line, which meant it was plastered with indicators that it was really an sf book, which it largely is not, and given a perfunctory cover and a claim on its jacket flap copy to contain "The October Game" by Ray Bradbury, rather than, as it does, RB's "The Black Ferris" (one of two stories it shares with the Carr/Greenberg antho from a decade and a half later).

Knight himself, perhaps unsure that the sf audience that the book's being sold to won't simply snort or reflexively reject any collection of fantasy stories (this being the marketing dilemma for fantasy so labeled as Tolkien was only beginning to sell in the millions), at various points in the headnotes to each story the reader is reassured that these stories aren't Just fantasy, or, more foolishly, that they are Just fantasy and can be enjoyed as such, as if any but the most blockheaded readers (of which there were, and are, more than a few in the sf audience) couldn't figure that out for themselves.

But, then, Knight seems to want to readers to know from the general introduction on in that his book is devoted to fantasy that follows the (uncredited) H.G. Wells rule for fantastic fiction, that there be only one miracle per story, and all must be rationally extrapolated from that anomaly. This was also the Party Line at Unknown (later Unknown Worlds), the fantasy magazine edited by the hugely influential science fiction editor John W. Campbell, Jr (whom it is widely suggested preferred editing Unknown during its four year run, and who ran some Unknownish fantasy in his Astounding SF, later Analog, after the companion folded).

Having established that, Knight leads off with the Bradbury story, which he slights the rest of Weird Tales's entire inventory in favor of. While "The Black Ferris" is the seed of Something Wicked This Way Comes, it probably isn't even the best story Bradbury published in Weird Tales, and Knight's review of Dark Carnival, the first Bradbury collection, suggests as much (that review can be read in Knight's collection of reviews, In Search of Wonder, a touchstone of SF criticism and a book I reread several times as a youth). It's written in Bradbury's usual slightly too lush style of his early mature work, but in doing so shows the influence of two of his great models, more blatantly so in this story than in many, the more precise Theodore Sturgeon and the progenitor Nathaniel Hawthorne (I can see this being written in part as a response to "Dr. Heidegger's Experiment").

Courtesy of the William Contento online indices, here is the contents of the volume:
The Dark Side ed. Damon Knight (Doubleday, 1965, $4.50, 241pp, hc) 
ix · Introduction · Damon Knight · in 
1 · The Black Ferris · Ray Bradbury · ss Weird Tales May ’48 
13 · They · Robert A. Heinlein · ss Unknown Apr ’41 
36 · Mistake Inside · James Blish · nv Startling Stories Mar ’48 
65 · Trouble with Water · Horace L. Gold · ss Unknown Mar ’39 
96 · c/o Mr. Makepeace · Peter Phillips · ss F&SF Feb ’54 
112 · The Golem · Avram Davidson · ss F&SF Mar ’55 
121 · The Story of the Late Mr. Elvesham · H. G. Wells · ss The Idler May, 1896 
144 · It · Theodore Sturgeon · nv Unknown Aug ’40 
179 · Nellthu · Anthony Boucher · vi F&SF Aug ’55 
182 · Casey Agonistes · Richard M. McKenna · ss F&SF Sep ’58 
198 · Eye for Iniquity · T. L. Sherred · nv Beyond Fantasy Fiction Jul ’53 
232 · The Man Who Never Grew Young · Fritz Leiber · ss Night’s Black Agents, Arkham, 1947 

courtesy Piet Nel

So, one can see that there's one story from Weird Tales, three from Unknown, one from the primarily sf magazine Startling Stories, four from Fantasy and Science Fiction, and one each from Beyond Fantasy Fiction and the general-interest magazine The Idler (a solid Wells market), and a story Leiber published in his first collection, Night's Black Agents, which was otherwise drawn from magazines...pretty darn close to a survey of the fantasy magazines, even if limited to a slice largely through the same sort of thing that is often called "urban fantasy" or contemporary fantasy today.

Knight was a not-uncritical but generous fan of Robert Heinlein, and overstates the effect of RAH's "They" on the reader (at least this reader, and I suspect most who were not introduced to the notion of solipsism by this story, as perhaps the young Knight was...a comic-book ripoff of Theodore Sturgeon's earlier "The Ultimate Egoist" was my first experience of same), but it remains an enjoyable story. Which is arguably science fiction, in this ostensibly non-sf anthology.

James Blish's "Mistake Inside" is an improvement, an early display of Blish's lifelong Anglophilia, fascination with history and with the basic questions of religious faith and the necesary grappling with morality and ethics that springs from that questioning...a mostly giddy alternate reality adventure with a deft ending. Not a major story, but certainly working up to one.

H. L. Gold's "Trouble with Water" is the other story shared by the Carr/Greenberg, and is certainly the best story I've read by Gold, though several others come close. Gold, like Alfred Bester, was a man with his finger on the pulse of popular culture of his time to a degree that no current person in the SF world can quite match, as far as I can tell...and in Gold's case, as Algis Budrys suggested at least once, that degree of understanding inhibited his best work (and Knight himself, in a review of a Gold collection that included How I Wrote This notes from Gold, quotes bits of his thought process that would've improved the story if more fully incorporated)...even here, the stereotypical shrewish wife, as cleverly as she's drawn, is not redeemed from cardboard by her eventual change of heart, in large part due to how well Greenberg the protagonist is presented as a full human being, and how the other characters are gracefully sketched in as much as needed. It's a story of a man who incautiously offends a "water gnome," and is in turn cursed by the supernatural creature with being unable to touch water. It's a classic, if not a perfect one, but eminently worth reading.

Peter Phillips is everyone's favorite near-forgotten writer of fantastic fiction in the 1950s, showing up also in such anthologies as Ramsey Campbell's Fine Frights, and "C/O Mr. Makepeace" is another fine if not superb, and elaborate, exercise in linking the notion of poltergeists to older forms of haunting. Knight helpfully (or not) keeps noting how many of the stories he's chosen loop back to either time-travel or solipsist/identity-question themes.

Avram Davidson's funny and widely anthologized borderline sf piece "The Golem" follows, wherein the stereotypical elderly Jewish couple, who are faced with a new sort of Frankenstein's monster, are wonderfully fleshed out, as is the ineffectually menacing automaton. Not Davidson's best story in this mode, but good and probably his most famous.

H. G. Wells's "The Story of the Late Mr. Elvesham" is very well-written, rigorously worked out, and too long, given that even in 1896 this story of an older man possessing the body of a younger one would not be terribly fresh. But, like every other story in this book, it uses its excellent detail tellingly.

Theodore Sturgeon's "It" was probably his masterwork, in the sense of his first fully worked-out story that can't be notably improved in any particular. I've been surprised in recent years to learn that some folks aren't too impressed by this persuasive horror story, which could be called sf only by stretching that term to its breaking point, but which is utterly convincing as horror fiction to its devastating last lines.

Anthony Boucher's "Nellthu" is simply the most memorably funny deal with a devil vignette that I've read, one which has stuck with me through the decades.

Richard McKenna's "Casey Agonistes" was his big splash in fantastic fiction, and Knight wants to warn us that it's arguably not fantasy at all, and it is a borderline case...which makes more sense on the fantasy side of the fence, dealing as it does with the shared hallucination of a ward full of dying men. McKenna made a bigger splash with the bestselling historical novel The Sand Pebbles and died too young shortly after.

T. L. Sherred's "Eye for Iniquity" is a brilliant contemporary fantasy about a man who learns he can duplicate money by simple concentration on the bills as they lie on his coffee table. Sherred was never prolific, but more than nearly anyone else in the magazine field could make one feel the lives of the working people in his stories. 

And Fritz Leiber's "The Man Who Never Grew Young" is another (deservedly) much-reprinted story, dealing as the title suggests with an anomalous man who remains the same age as those around him are born from their graves, grow less wrinkled and eventually go from adult to adolescent to infant and are absorbed back into their mothers...a rather more imaginative reworking of the reverse aging concept shared by a widely advertised film based on a certain F. Scott Fitzgerald story. (I see "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" is widely posted online, I have to wonder with what copyright provisions being violated.)

So, basically, this is not a definitive anthology, but one which contains not a few brilliant or near-brilliant stories, and no actively bad ones. The second half is better than the first, but I have to wonder if I'm letting nostalgia overtake me in at least a case or two, as Knight does with "They." I doubt it. 

A fine thing to seek out in the secondhand market or interlibrary loan, perhaps along with Knight's horror/suspense/sf anthology A Shocking Thing, published a decade later...the two of them together might make an interesting comparison to the Carr/Greenberg, or Robert Silverberg (and Greenberg)'s poll-driven The Fatasy Hall of Fame.

More Contento:

A Shocking Thing ed. Damon Knight (Pocket 0-671-77775-0, Nov ’74, 95¢, 245pp, pb) 
1 · Man from the South [“Collector’s Item”] · Roald Dahl · ss Colliers Sep 4 ’48 
13 · The Snail-Watcher · Patricia Highsmith · ss Gamma #3 ’64 
21 · Bianca’s Hands · Theodore Sturgeon · ss Argosy (UK) May ’47 
31 · Poor Little Warrior! · Brian W. Aldiss · ss F&SF Apr ’58 
39 · The Hounds · Kate Wilhelm · nv * 
65 · The Clone · Theodore L. Thomas · ss Fantastic Dec ’59 
79 · The Touch of Nutmeg Makes It · John Collier · ss New Yorker May 3 ’41 
89 · Casey Agonistes · Richard M. McKenna · ss F&SF Sep ’58 
101 · The Abyss · Leonid Andreyev · ss, 1943 
117 · A Case History · John Anthony West · ss, 1973 
121 · Fondly Fahrenheit · Alfred Bester · nv F&SF Aug ’54 
143 · Lukundoo [1907] · Edward Lucas White · ss Weird Tales Nov ’25 
159 · The Cabbage Patch · Theodore R. Cogswell · ss Perspective Fll ’52 
165 · Oil of Dog · Ambrose Bierce · ss Oakland Daily Evening Tribune Oct 11, 1890 
171 · The Time of the Big Sleep [France, Fiction 1971] · Jean-Pierre Andrevon · nv * 
195 · The Right Man for the Right Job · J. C. Thompson · ss Playboy Jul ’62 
207 · The Year of the Jackpot · Robert A. Heinlein · nv Galaxy Mar ’52 

A Treasury of Modern Fantasy ed. Terry Carr & Martin H. Greenberg (Avon 0-380-77115-2, Mar ’81, $8.95, 588pp, tp) 
xiii · Introduction · Terry Carr & Martin H. Greenberg · in 
1 · The Rats in the Walls · H. P. Lovecraft · ss Weird Tales Mar ’24 
19 · The Woman of the Wood [earlier version of “The Woman of the Wood”, Weird Tales Aug ’26] · A. Merritt · nv The Fox Woman & Other Stories, Avon, 1949 
45 · Trouble with Water · Horace L. Gold · ss Unknown Mar ’39 
63 · Thirteen O’Clock [as by Cecil Corwin; Peter Packer] · C. M. Kornbluth · nv Stirring Science Stories Feb ’41 
85 · The Coming of the White Worm · Clark Ashton Smith · ss Stirring Science Stories Apr ’41 
97 · Yesterday Was Monday · Theodore Sturgeon · ss Unknown Jun ’41 
113 · They Bite · Anthony Boucher · ss Unknown Aug ’43 
123 · Call Him Demon [as by Keith Hammond] · Henry Kuttner · ss Thrilling Wonder Stories Fll ’46 
145 · Daemon · C. L. Moore · ss Famous Fantastic Mysteries Oct ’46 
165 · The Black Ferris · Ray Bradbury · ss Weird Tales May ’48 
173 · Displaced Person · Eric Frank Russell · vi Weird Tales Sep ’48 
177 · Our Fair City · Robert A. Heinlein · ss Weird Tales Jan ’49 
193 · Come and Go Mad · Fredric Brown · nv Weird Tales Jul ’49 
227 · There Shall Be No Darkness · James Blish · nv Thrilling Wonder Stories Apr ’50 
259 · The Loom of Darkness [“Liane the Wayfarer”; Dying Earth] · Jack Vance · ss The Dying Earth, Hillman, 1950; Worlds Beyond Dec ’50 
269 · The Rag Thing [as by David Grinnell] · Donald A. Wollheim · ss F&SF Oct ’51 
275 · Sail On! Sail On! · Philip José Farmer · ss Startling Stories Dec ’52 
285 · One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts · Shirley Jackson · ss F&SF Jan ’55 
295 · That Hell-Bound Train · Robert Bloch · ss F&SF Sep ’58 
307 · Nine Yards of Other Cloth [John] · Manly Wade Wellman · ss F&SF Nov ’58 
323 · The Montavarde Camera · Avram Davidson · ss F&SF May ’59 
335 · Man Overboard · John Collier · nv Argosy (UK) Jan ’60 
355 · My Dear Emily · Joanna Russ · nv F&SF Jul ’62 
375 · Descending · Thomas M. Disch · ss Fantastic Jul ’64 
387 · Four Ghosts in Hamlet · Fritz Leiber · nv F&SF Jan ’65 
417 · Divine Madness · Roger Zelazny · ss Magazine of Horror Sum ’66 
425 · Narrow Valley · R. A. Lafferty · ss F&SF Sep ’66 
437 · Timothy [Anita] · Keith Roberts · ss sf Impulse Sep ’66 
449 · Longtooth · Edgar Pangborn · nv F&SF Jan ’70 
479 · Through a Glass—Darkly · Zenna Henderson · nv F&SF Oct ’70 
501 · Piper at the Gates of Dawn · Richard Cowper · na F&SF Mar ’76 
547 · Jeffty Is Five · Harlan Ellison · ss F&SF Jul ’77 
565 · Within the Walls of Tyre · Michael Bishop · nv Weirdbook #13 ’78 

The Fantasy Hall of Fame ed. Robert Silverberg (HarperPrism 0-06-105215-9, Mar ’98 [Feb ’98], $14.00, 562pp, tp); Anthology of 30 fantasy stories from 1939 to 1990, chosen by SFWA members. Introduction by Silverberg; individual story introductions by Martin H. Greenberg. 
vii · Introduction · Robert Silverberg · in 
1 · Trouble with Water · H. L. Gold · ss Unknown Mar ’39 
21 · Nothing in the Rules · L. Sprague de Camp · nv Unknown Jul ’39 
47 · Fruit of Knowledge · C. L. Moore · nv Unknown Oct ’40 
77 · Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius [1941] · Jorge Luís Borges · ss Labyrinths, New Directions, 1962 
91 · The Compleat Werewolf [Fergus O’Breen] · Anthony Boucher · na Unknown Apr ’42 
137 · The Small Assassin · Ray Bradbury · ss Dime Mystery Magazine Nov ’46 
153 · The Lottery · Shirley Jackson · ss The New Yorker Jun 26 ’48 
161 · Our Fair City · Robert A. Heinlein · ss Weird Tales Jan ’49 
177 · There Shall Be No Darkness · James Blish · nv Thrilling Wonder Stories Apr ’50 
211 · The Loom of Darkness [“Liane the Wayfarer”; Dying Earth] · Jack Vance · ss The Dying Earth, Hillman, 1950 
221 · The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles [as by Idris Seabright] · Margaret St. Clair · ss F&SF Oct ’51 
225 · The Silken-Swift · Theodore Sturgeon · nv F&SF Nov ’53 
243 · The Golem · Avram Davidson · ss F&SF Mar ’55 
249 · Operation Afreet [Steven Matuchek; Ginny Greylock] · Poul Anderson · nv F&SF Sep ’56 
277 · That Hell-Bound Train · Robert Bloch · ss F&SF Sep ’58 
289 · Bazaar of the Bizarre [Fafhrd & Gray Mouser] · Fritz Leiber · nv Fantastic Aug ’63 
311 · Come Lady Death · Peter S. Beagle · ss Atlantic Monthly Sep ’63 
327 · The Drowned Giant · J. G. Ballard · ss The Terminal Beach, London: Gollancz, 1964 
337 · Narrow Valley · R. A. Lafferty · ss F&SF Sep ’66 
349 · Faith of Our Fathers · Philip K. Dick · nv Dangerous Visions, ed. Harlan Ellison, Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967 
379 · The Ghost of a Model T · Clifford D. Simak · nv Epoch, ed. Roger Elwood & Robert Silverberg, Berkley, 1975 
393 · The Demoness · Tanith Lee · ss The Year’s Best Fantasy Stories #2, ed. Lin Carter, DAW, 1976 
405 · Jeffty Is Five · Harlan Ellison · ss F&SF Jul ’77 
423 · The Detective of Dreams · Gene Wolfe · nv Dark Forces, ed. Kirby McCauley, Viking, 1980 
439 · Unicorn Variations · Roger Zelazny · nv Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine (IASFM, now Asimov's Science Fiction) Apr 13 ’81 
461 · Basileus · Robert Silverberg · ss The Best of Omni Science Fiction, No. 5, ed. Don Myrus, Omni, 1983 
477 · The Jaguar Hunter · Lucius Shepard · nv F&SF May ’85 
501 · Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight · Ursula K. Le Guin · nv Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences, Capra Press, 1987 
527 · Bears Discover Fire · Terry Bisson · ss IASFM Aug ’90 
537 · Tower of Babylon · Ted Chiang · nv Omni Nov ’90

[and the earlier different volume with the same title:]
[and then there was this:]

The Horror Hall of Fame ed. Robert Silverberg & Martin H. Greenberg (Carroll & Graf 0-88184-692-9, Jul ’91, $21.95, 416pp, hc) Anthology of 18 classic horror stories. There is an uncredited introduction by Stefan Dziemianowicz.
  • 9 · Introduction [by Stefan R. Dziemianowicz] · Anon. · in
  • 17 · The Fall of the House of Usher · Edgar Allan Poe · ss Burton’s Gentlemen’s Magazine Sep, 1839
  • 36 · Green Tea [Martin Hesselius] · Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu · nv All the Year Round Oct 23-Nov 13, 1869
  • 69 · The Damned Thing · Ambrose Bierce · ss Tales from New York Town Topics Dec 7, 1893; Weird Tales Sep ’23
  • 79 · The Yellow Sign · Robert W. Chambers · nv The King in Yellow, New York & Chicago: F. Tennyson Neely, 1895
  • 101 · The Monkey’s Paw · W. W. Jacobs · ss Harper’s Monthly Sep ’02
  • 113 · The White People · Arthur Machen · nv Horlick’s Magazine Jan ’04
  • 152 · The Willows · Algernon Blackwood · na The Listener and Other Stories, London: Eveleigh Nash, 1907
  • 202 · Casting the Runes · M. R. James · nv More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, Arnold, 1911
  • 224 · The Graveyard Rats · Henry Kuttner · ss Weird Tales Mar ’36
  • 234 · Pigeons from Hell · Robert E. Howard · nv Weird Tales May ’38
  • 263 · It · Theodore Sturgeon · nv Unknown Aug ’40
  • 289 · Smoke Ghost · Fritz Leiber · ss Unknown Oct ’41
  • 306 · Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper · Robert Bloch · ss Weird Tales Jul ’43
  • 324 · The Small Assassin · Ray Bradbury · ss Dime Mystery Magazine Nov ’46
  • 341 · The Whimper of Whipped Dogs · Harlan Ellison · ss Bad Moon Rising, ed. Thomas M. Disch, Harper & Row, 1973
  • 360 · Calling Card · Ramsey Campbell · ss Dark Companions, Macmillan, 1982
  • 367 · Coin of the Realm · Charles L. Grant · ss Tales from the Nightside, Arkham House, 1981
  • 380 · The Reach [“Do the Dead Sing?”] · Stephen King · ss Yankee Nov ’81
  • 402 · Biographical Notes · Misc. · bg
[and that was succeeded, in SFWA-style, by HWA's...]

The Horror Hall of Fame: The Stoker Winners  
Editor: Joe R. Lansdale

Friday, September 21, 2018

FFB: MY LIFE AS A CARTOONIST by Harvey Kurtzman as told to Howard Zimmerman (Pocket/Minstrel 1988)

Harvey Kurtzman, of course, is best remembered as the founding editor of Mad comics, and magazine that made a point of not being a standard comic book in the aftermath of anti-comics activism (to put it mildly) in the early-mid 1950s (mostly focused on horror and crime comics, and Mad's publisher EC was one of the leaders in the horror field, at least)(the ferocity of the anti-horror comics backlash was so strong that historian Les Daniels credits it with helping kill the original run of Weird Tales, a fiction rather than comics magazine, in 1954, which had been struggling particularly in its last few years as a digest-sized magazine). And this is his only book-length memoir to be published, as a book for YA readers (Marijane Meaker being the only other creator of work for young readers and adults whose YA autobiography, Me Me Me Me Me: Not a Novel, was the only one I was aware of without any adult counterpart, and indeed the only one written, for some years, but she eventually followed up with the rather focused Highsmith: A Romance of the 1950s). Howard Zimmerman conducted and edited a series of interviews into the prose text of this book, and the deal was packaged by Byron Preiss. 

So, while the more adult aspects of Kurtzman's life and career are glossed over (to the extent that citations of Hugh Hefner's support of Kurtzman's post-Mad magazines, as publisher of Trump and less-invested benefactor to Humbug!, make no mention of Hefner's name nor Playboy, and no reference is made to the long-running Playboy strip, with Will Elder,  "Little Annie Fanny"), Kurtzman does give, along the way, bits of instruction on how to cartoon, and advice to the kids on how to draw and what to consider in seeking to make a career in commercial art. (He does risk mentioning writing and cartooning for Esquire.) And there's a reasonably generous selection of Kurtzman's first notable contributions to professional comics, the humorous one-page strip-series "Hey, Look!" that appeared in the Timely Comics magazines edited by Stan Lee, before the line would be redubbed Marvel Comics. The book is digest-sized, and all the interiors are in black and white on relatively low-quality paper, so the reproduction is just Acceptable but nice to have, and along with the "Hey, Look!"s there are less copious samples of work from all of Kurtzman's magazines, including EC's 1950s war comics and  the 1960-65 project Help!, the two volumes of the 1980s Bantam Books/Preiss-packaged YA anthology series Nuts!, and a complete (if black and white) reprint of a 1950 humorous western story, "Pot-Shot Pete".

It's to be regretted that a fuller account, aimed at adults, hasn't been assembled, nor was attempted, even given a few impressive biographies have been offered, but this book is a useful gloss on Kurtzman's life and career, and does touch on a few items, such as Nuts!, or the annual produced by his students for several years, kar*tunz, which are given even less mention in the other references I've read about HK. At the bottom of most of the pages, one can see an animated excerpt of one of Kurtzman's segments for Sesame Street, when flipped correctly...

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

Below, assistant editor Gloria Steinem writing for Help! magazine, a couple of years before her famous Playboy Club "bunny" piece. Steinem was succeeded as assistant editor by Terry Gilliam, before his emigration to the UK and hooking up with the Monty Python crew.

Front and back cover of Nuts 2 and the table of contents:

Friday, September 14, 2018

FFB: THE SHAPE OF THINGS edited by Damon Knight (Popular Library 1965); THE UNKNOWN 5 edited by D. R. Bensen (Pyramid 1964)

I've been ill for much of the week, so reduxing...with apologies...but these were among my less popular reviews of years past...

Friday, December 17, 2010

FFB: THE SHAPE OF THINGS, edited by Damon Knight (Popular Library, 1965)

from the Contento indices:
The Shape of Things ed. Damon Knight (Popular Library SP352, 1965, 50¢, 206pp, pb)
· Introduction · Damon Knight · in
· Don’t Look Now · Henry Kuttner · ss Startling Stories Mar ’48
· The Box · James Blish · ss Thrilling Wonder Stories Apr ’49
· The New Reality · Charles L. Harness · nv Thrilling Wonder Stories Dec ’50
· The Eternal Now · Murray Leinster · nv Thrilling Wonder Stories Fll ’44
· The Sky Was Full of Ships · Theodore Sturgeon · ss Thrilling Wonder Stories Jun ’47
· The Shape of Things · Ray Bradbury · ss Thrilling Wonder Stories Feb ’48
· The Only Thing We Learn · C. M. Kornbluth · ss Startling Stories Jul ’49
· The Hibited Man · L. Sprague de Camp · ss Thrilling Wonder Stories Oct ’49
· Dormant · A. E. van Vogt · ss Startling Stories Nov ’48
· The Ambassadors · Anthony Boucher · ss Startling Stories Jun ’52
· A Child Is Crying · John D. MacDonald · ss Thrilling Wonder Stories Dec ’48

This thin volume, without making much of a fuss about it, was the first (and [I incorrectly wrote back in 2010] perhaps still is the only) Best-of the Samuel Merwin and Sam Mines years of Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories, the Other Good sf magazines of the late '40s and early '50s [Mines had actually published a The Best from Startling Stories that included fiction from TWS, during his run with the pulp titles]...magazines with not as distinct personalities as Astounding Science Fiction, John W. Campbell's revolutionary magazine being challenged finally, in part by writers and editors developed and inspired by Campbell but also by (as, for example, Bradbury) writers who were never too compatible with the ASF ethos, or Planet Stories, by the end of the 1940s not only the home of elegant space opera and a regular market for Leigh Brackett and others, but by those years fully as good and about as diverse as ASF...and such magazines stressing sophistication and good prose as Galaxy and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and briefly also such others as Knight's own Worlds Beyond and Howard Browne's mixed bag of the early Fantastic and the upgraded Amazing.

But, for a while, Startling and Thrilling Wonder, as burdened by their pulp-era titles as was Astounding or Amazing (at least Fantastic, and its predecessor Fantastic Adventures, and Weird Tales had descriptive titles that had some specific relevance to their content), were publishing a range of often fascinating and innovative material, including the likes of Philip Jose Farmer's The Lovers, which dealt directly with tragic interspecies romance and helped establish Farmer's reputation, and the contents of this volume...ranging from James Blish's elegant technological "problem" story (how do you rescue a city encased in an impenetrable force-field?) to Ray Bradbury's whimsical notion of a woman who gives birth to an apparently healthy blue pyramid, to Charles Harness's typical blend of space-opera and mind-blowing philosophical and cosmological speculation...Harness is yet another underappreciated writer in the field, except among those who really love and know This Kind of Thing...his influence on his younger contemporaries Jack Vance and Poul Anderson, particularly, seems pretty clear to me.

I've read that on the strength of this kind of material, Startling managed to become for a while the best-selling of sf magazines, presumably outselling Astounding, just starting to drift due to Campbell's fascination with Dianetics, psi powers, and other matters from the fringes of science, and Amazing, just after Howard Browne dumped the lunatic-fringe-stroking Shaver Mystery material (akin to Ancient Astronauts and the more irresponsible UFOlogy coverage then just coming into vogue, with, as with Dianetics and other pop mysticism, some past-life regression elements) that Browne's predecessor Ray Palmer had used to put that magazine into the circulation stratosphere...and before the insurgence in late 1950/early 1951 of Galaxy.

And yet, these magazines from the Thrilling Group pulp chain, which had been morphed (essentially) into the paperback publisher Popular Library, had been so thoroughly eclipsed, a dozen years after the titles were merged and folded, so that the packaging for this book didn't even bother to mention opposed to highlighting the kinds of writers and fiction they were publishing. (Popular Library had published several Wonder Story Annuals in the '50s and '60s, to test the waters, apparently, for the old title.) That legacy stands...even if this volume is now as obscure, certainly to the average reader, as the magazines it draws from.

Also about Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and the Thrilling Group
Also about Damon Knight

Friday, January 30, 2009

Friday's "Forgotten" Books: THE UNKNOWN 5 edited by D. R. Bensen (Pyramid 1964)

This fine and somewhat influential collection is for several reasons newly, sadly has a cover and a new (in 1964) illustration by John Schoenherr for the previously-unpublished story in the collection, the Asimov...but the other illustrations were from the pages of the original story appearances in Unknown and (its later title) Unknown Worlds, by the recently late (in 2009) Ed Cartier. (In fact, Schoenherr, best known for his Dune and other Analog and also wild-animal/landscape painting, is the [in 2009] only living contributor to the book.) (When Pyramid was bought in the latest ‘70s by HBJ, this anthology was re-issued with an absolutely hideous, by intention, Rowena Morrill cover.)

Also, it was published 45 years ago this month…in its turn 21 years after the folding of Unknown Worlds, in it's turn founded 70 years ago, with much nostalgic and not so nostalgic reminiscence in editor D.R. Bensen’s introduction, who notes that in the US-still-neutral WW2 years, the ads in Unknown and other fiction magazines lent themselves to suggesting ways to keep that $30/week job, rather than such late 1963 concerns as nuclear war (the introduction was clearly written before the Kennedy assassination). Today, of course, we’re much further along, and often most concerned with keeping that $600-900/week job.

Unknown, of course, was the fantasy-fiction companion to the hugely influential sf magazine Astounding, as mentioned in previous posts, and during its 3.5-year run it was the other major pole in fantasy-fiction publishing in the pulps and pulp-like magazines to the similarly legendary Weird Tales (in Unknown Worlds's later years, it was published in a larger size and with better paper than the pulps, with a fairly staid cover format that looked more like The Atlantic Monthly at the time than like the pulps…all factors which might’ve led to its folding in 1943, when paper supplies were getting tight and publisher Street and Smith cut back on several fronts.) Actually, 1939, when Unknown was founded, was a good year for fantasy magazines, with Ziff-Davis first offering Fantastic Adventures (though it was originally primarily a science fiction magazine), the Thrilling Group/Standard Magazines launching the shortlived Strange Stories, and the Munsey magazine group beginnin Famous Fantastic Mysteries, primarily a reprint magazine but publishing some notable original fiction. But in the early ‘40s, the post-Lovecraft/Robert Howard/Clark Ashton Smith Weird Tales and Unknown were the most prominent titles devoted exclusively to fantasy. It’s often been thus since—when Unknown folded, both WT and eventually Fantastic Adventures gained new, good contributions and contributors…even if the latter never completely shed hack adventure fiction cheek by jowl with the better work. When WT folded for the first time in 1954, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction had arisen beginning in 1949 and continuing to the present, while FA was folded into the more ambitious new Fantastic in 1954…though, unfortunately, the tendency toward hack was simply transferred over to Fantastic for the next several years (the notable Beyond Fantasy Fiction sprung up for its run from 1953-1955 as a companion to Galaxy Science Fiction). However, F&SF and Fantastic remained the most visible and consistent markets for new fantasy till Fantastic’s first run ended in 1980 (it was merged with its sf stablemate Amazing Stories, and has been revived spottily since).

Which is a long way ‘round to get to the news that F&SF, now in its 60th year, is dropping frequency to bimonthly status for the first time since the early ‘50s, and that Realms of Fantasy, which has held that “other fantasy magazine" status for 15 years, has been rather abruptly folded by its publisher (April’s will be the last issue); the revived Weird Tales, probably the next most visible US fantasy magazine, seems to be continuing, even as Fantastic will supposedly be relaunched again.

In his headnote for one of the stories within, Bensen notes that the axolotl in the Cartier illustration included with the Sturgeon story is the adult form of the “mud puppy,” apparently the then fairly recent subject of a running joke in Mad magazine…which, coincidentally, is dropping its frequency this year from monthly to quarterly, as Time Warner cuts back at its DC/Mad comics division…

So, finally, to the book’s literary content, an attempt to, even more than with its predecessor The Unknown, concentrate on stories that had not been reprinted from the magazine…including a previously unpublished lead-off story by Isaac Asimov, “Author! Author!” This had been in inventory at Unknown Worlds when the magazine folded, and Asimov had never placed it elsewhere, and it's an amiable if slightly stiff tale of a writer literally haunted by his insufferable detective character, who attempts to steal his creator’s life.

Cleve Cartmill, busy over several decades as a ghost-writer for the likes of Leslie Charteris and possibly Henry Kuttner, as well as under his own name (and famously at the center of a WW2 investigation of his atomic bomb story for Astounding, “Deadline”), has a clever if perhaps excessively folksy deal with the devil story with “The Bargain”…Stephen Vincent Benet or Manly Wade Wellman might well’ve done a bit better with this story…perhaps this kind of thing requires a three-name byline.

Theodore Sturgeon’s “The Hag Seleen” follows (originally published, with some justice, as by Sturgeon and James Beard [not the chef]), a good example of Sturgeon’s work for the magazine, but not among the greatest (such as “It,” considered here previously as part of Knight’s The Dark Half, or “Shottle Bop”). Sturgeon’s child characters could sometimes be a bit cute, and this is an example.

Alfred Bester’s novella “Hell is Forever” might be the earliest published example of Bester’s devotion to “dazzlement” as a technique…keeping this, and such later work as The Demolished Man and “5,271,009,” moving at a breakneck pace with sudden flashes of invention and deft turns of plot. He hasn’t mastered it yet, in this tale of a Hellfire Club-like group who find themselves damned to customized private hells after they wade into deeper water than they expected…but the work is both rewarding fun and promising for what he would go on to do…including a number of other novels, the last and most purely criminous reconstructed by Charles Platt for posthumous publication, Tender Loving Rage.

And "The Crest of the Wave," Jane Rice’s tale of a murdered thug’s posthumous retribution for his murder, is a good, if unextraordinary, example of that kind of borderline crime-story horror, with fine detail.

In short, this gives a good sense of what a good issue of Unknown was like, if not (nor could it quite be) an example of the absolute best the magazine published.

It should probably be mentioned that Bensen’s one sf novel was named for the letter column in UnknownAnd Having Writ…

    The Unknown 5 ed. D. R. Bensen (Pyramid R-962, Jan ’64, 50¢, 190pp, pb)

For newer reviews of rather older books, 
please see Patti Abbott's blog...