Friday, May 31, 2019

FFB: THE YEAR'S BEST HORROR STORIES, SERIES VII edited by Gerald W. Page (DAW Books 1979): Dennis Etchison memory, among others

Dennis Etchison died this past week, after a long career (and, I'm sure, a too-brief life) of good to brilliant work as a writer and editor. 

I thought I'd take a minute to recall not quite the first story I read by him, but the first brilliant one that came to mind (the first I read was the good but slightly less effective psychodrama "The Soft Wall" in First World Fantasy Awards, edited by Gahan Wilson, where it was included as an example of the kind of fiction Whispers magazine would feature--Stuart David Schiff, editor and publisher of the little magazine of horror and fantasy, won the Special Award for Non-Professional work, not quite true but certainly Schiff wasn't making his living from Whispers). "The Pitch" leads off the seventh and last volume of The Year's Best Horror Stories that Jerry Page would edit, before handing it off to Karl Edward Wagner for the rest of the run. Such a nest of memories and connections, given how important Page's and Wagner's volumes of the series were to me, and that Page would work at TV Guide's Atlanta bureau for some years before I would work the Radnor home office for more than 17 years, and Wagner would send me a very nice letter after reading my first published story.

"The Pitch", like "The Soft Wall", is actually not horror fiction so much as realistic, intense suspense fiction. Much of it describes the demonstration pitch made for a vegetable chopping device by the protagonist to a department store audience...and what that might lead lead to. It makes sure to be subtly unsettling from jump, deftly exploiting the contrast of the prosaic circumstances in which it is set with the not altogether wholesome drives of the accomplished pitchman and his sharp-edged product, and what, we eventually learn, set the events of the story in motion and what will happen after the story's end. Lean and understated and disturbing. 

Like a lot of Etchison's fiction, and much of the best of what he would present in his impressive series of of the most atypical, and wide-ranging, will be the subject of another FFB entry here soon. 

The rest of this volume (or, for that matter, the 1978 Whispers issue pictured above which first ran "The Pitch") is full of impressive work as well, which I shall re-read and review in greater detail later on:


col2910 said...

Read a bit from him back in the day. Sorry to hear this news.

Todd Mason said...

I certainly was as well...would've liked to have spoken with him, but never made the effort to contact him.

noirencyclopedia said...

I was upset to learn the news about Etchison, whom I never knew but whose work I greatly respected (and me not normally a horror fan).

BTW, I sent you and RARA-AVIS a note to this effect, but yahoo rejected it.

Todd Mason said...

YahooGroups has been having an intermittent problem thus. Please try it again....