|First edition cover by Tony Palladino
What tends to set a Knight story apart is the lived-in feeling of his settings, the relative believability of his variously flawed characters, the unflashy deftness of his prose. He was not one to introduce too many startlingly new concepts into the fantastic fiction vernacular, but he would think about them intelligently and ground them in credible human terms better than nearly anyone else of his time, or before or since. He mostly avoided the hobby-horses that could derail even the best of writers drawn to fantastic fiction, "inside" the self-conscious community or "out", and he was, like most of the best of his colleagues, a very conscious artist indeed.
The descriptions of bohemian life in the 1950s in "You're Another", one of his most underappreciated stories, are far from the caricature of most of the Beats, much less of less-engaged writers about such milieux, while getting across the draw and compulsion of an artist's calling, and doing so through the employment of a few telling details, the kinds of supplies a painter might be very happy to finally find in stock in a supply store, for example (Knight's first professionally-published work was a panel cartoon, and he was an occasional illustrator early on), while also dealing with human drama engagingly, with graceful offhandedness at times, the tragic and delightful senses of life engaged and only infrequently underlined or italicized. His short fiction was a model most of us should aspire to emulate...he didn't write a fully-realized novel till the last several years of his career, but some of the chapters in those severely flawed early novels are similarly impressive as the shorter works up to and including the novellas. And what is of the fantastic in his fiction, as suggested above, is not slighted, rarely if ever a thin vehicle for metaphor, believable within its context even when dealing with, say, the demands of the fetus being carried to term...in this case, the stern and slightly sadistic, telepathically communicated demands of the very special creature in "Special Delivery"...again, wit and intelligent thought, and the sense of life lived are all present and awaiting the reader. If John Cheever were perhaps a bit less visibly anguished, John Collier a bit less irascible, they'd read even more like Knight than they do. Muriel Spark is a bit less spare, but not too distant.
I continue to wonder why such incisive work as "The Country of the Kind" and the then-new "The Handler" were left out of this volume, but the inclusion of "Babel II" (in which a visiting alien's kind offer of a recreational intoxicant from his culture leads to the impossibility of communication through written or spoken language between humans) or the small bouquet of time-travel stories help make up for this.
Any collection of Knight's worth reading, even given how diffidently he would title also the subsequent early collections, such as In Deep, Off Center and Turning On.
|First paperback edition cover by Richard Powers
- Far Out Damon Knight (Simon & Schuster, 1961, $3.95, 199pp, hc)
- Introduction · Anthony Boucher · in
- To Serve Man · ss Galaxy Nov 1950
- Idiot Stick · ss Star Science Fiction Stories #4, ed. Frederik Pohl, Ballantine 1958
- Thing of Beauty · nv Galaxy Sep 1958
- The Enemy · ss Venture Jan 1958
- Not with a Bang · ss F&SF (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction) Win/Spr 1950
- Babel II · nv Beyond Fantasy Fiction Jul 1953
- Anachron · ss If Jan 1954
- Special Delivery · nv Galaxy Apr 1954
- You’re Another · nv F&SF Jun 1955
- Time Enough · ss Amazing Jul 1960, as “Enough Time”
- Extempore · ss Infinity Science Fiction Aug 1956, as “The Beach Where Time Began”
- Cabin Boy · nv Galaxy Sep 1951
- The Last Word · ss Satellite Science Fiction Feb 1957
For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.
|UK first paperback cover by Josh Kirby