Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: stories from ROD SERLING'S NIGHT GALLERY READER edited by Carol Serling, Martin H. Greenberg & Charles G. Waugh (Dembner, 1987)

Some of the stories...the whole volume to follow...

the Contento/Stephensen-Payne/Locus index:

Rod Serling’s Night Gallery Reader ed. Carol Serling, Martin H. Greenberg & Charles G. Waugh (Dembner 0-934878-93-5, Dec ’87 [Nov ’87], $15.95, 326pp, hc) Anthology of 18 stories that were adapted as Night Gallery tv episodes.
  • ix · Introduction · Carol Serling · in
  • 1 · The Escape Route · Rod Serling · na The Season to be Wary, Little Brown: Boston, 1967
  • 71 · The Dead Man · Fritz Leiber · nv Weird Tales Nov ’50
  • 104 · The Little Black Bag · C. M. Kornbluth · nv Astounding Jul ’50
  • 138 · The House · André Maurois · vi Harper’s Jun ’31
  • 141 · The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes · Margaret St. Clair · ss Maclean’s, 1950
  • 152 · The Academy · David Ely · ss Playboy Jun ’65
  • 163 · The Devil Is Not Mocked · Manly Wade Wellman · ss Unknown Jun ’43
  • 171 · Brenda · Margaret St. Clair · ss Weird Tales Mar ’54
  • 184 · Big Surprise [“What Was in the Box?”] · Richard Matheson · ss EQMM Apr ’59
  • 191 · House—with Ghost · August Derleth · ss Lonesome Places, Arkham: Sauk City, WI, 1962
  • 199 · The Dark Boy · August Derleth · ss F&SF Feb ’57
  • 215 · Pickman’s Model · H. P. Lovecraft · ss Weird Tales Oct ’27
  • 230 · Cool Air · H. P. Lovecraft · ss Tales of Magic and Mystery Mar ’28; reprinted in Weird Tales Sep ’39
  • 240 · Sorworth Place [“Old Place of Sorworth”;  Ralph Bain] · Russell Kirk · nv London Mystery Magazine #14 ’52
  • 261 · The Return of the Sorcerer · Clark Ashton Smith · ss Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror Sep ’31
  • 279 · The Girl with the Hungry Eyes · Fritz Leiber · ss The Girl With the Hungry Eyes, ed. Donald A. Wollheim, Avon, 1949
  • 297 · The Horsehair Trunk · Davis Grubb · ss Colliers May 25 ’46; ; as “The Secret Darkness”, EQMM Oct ’56
  • 308 · The Ring with the Velvet Ropes · Edward D. Hoch · ss With Malice Toward All, ed. Robert L. Fish, Putnam, 1968
the 1990 Knightsbridge paperback edition (courtesy Andy Austin):

Last Wednesday, I cited Rod Serling's novella "The Escape Route" and its failure as prose (even if it would serve, and probably did, as an acceptable "treatment" to get a script greenlit)...some well-turned dialog, not much else (and the script as shot made for a decent segment of the Night Gallery pilot film...another novella from the same Serling collection was also adapted as the second and weakest of the three stories, directed by Steven Spielberg in a rather painfully "arty" fashion and, like most Spielberg work, wildly overpraised, even giving credit for it being his first professional effort). So, as we build this book's review piecemeal, let's turn to some rather better work, by rather better writers of prose (and at least one of them a playwright who did rather better work at least in fantasticated scripting). 

"The Little Black Bag" is Cyril Kornbluth at his cynical best, the story of his also selected by a poll of the Science Fiction Writers of America for the first volume of their The Science Fiction Hall of Fame (though Kornbluth wrote several books' worth of short fiction in the same league), and as adapted for Night Gallery slightly watered down (such as having the secondary character become a middle-aged man rather than a young woman, perhaps to allow for casting a veteran actor, but even more likely to keep from offending those who would find the character's selfishness easier to take from a somewhat weatherbeaten male). A down and out, homeless and alcoholic ex-doctor comes across a bag of medical instruments more or less accidentally sent back in time from the future...and he and his default assistant find themselves able to do very good things...but the assistant decides the potential for profit should be exploited, with both tragic and ironic consequences.

"The House" is a deft and resonant if somewhat one-punch anecdote of a story; as a vignette, this is enough. I should re-subscribe to Harper's for several reasons, not least to get access to their archive and discover, perhaps, who translated this fine bit of horror (I first read it in Hal Cantor's Ghosts and Things, a Berkley Books anthology that was everywhere one might turn in the '60s and '70s, and one of the two first adult horror anthologies I read at a tender age).

David Ely's "The Academy" is another essentially one-punch story, a bit longer than a typical vignette but not Too much so, and so nicely worked out that even an adult reader who might see the reveal coming might simply continue to enjoy the ride. A suspense story of the disquieting rather than pulse-pounding sort...and even though there's no supernatural element to it, it's usually been reprinted in horror anthologies, such as Ray Russell's The Playboy Book of Horror and the Supernatural, where I first read it. Ely was usually good for this kind of disquiet, as in his near-future sf novel Seconds...very well filmed. For that matter, the NG adaptation of  "The Academy" is only a bit heavy-handed, and Bill Bixby did a very good job as the protagonist.

"The Girl with the Hungry Eyes" is one of the more brilliant of the early stories of the frequently brilliant Fritz Leiber, and it's a severe pity both the Leiber adaptations for Night Gallery were rather half-assed. (Oddly enough, the Lovecraft adaptations were the best I've seen that had been produced up till then, though that wasn't too tough, and they not matched for another decade or so.) A strange sort of psychic vampirism is exploited by both the "girl" (1949 will out) model and the photographer and sponsors  employing them. Another disquieting story, as usually the case with the best of Leiber's horror fiction, and there's no disputing the supernatural element in this one. I might've first read it in the 1978 revised edition of the early Leiber collection Night's Black Agents...

More to come from this volume...and a related one...


AL said...

Very interesting! Thanks.

Paul Fraser said...

The Kornbluth isn’t entirely cynical: the doctor has a redemptive arc that starts from a fairly low point.

Todd Mason said...

AL--thank you!

Paul--but Kornbluth is pretty certain that the default of the human species, as things work out in this story as in most of his, is toward the viciously venal. Not to "spoil" this 1950 classic any more for anyone who hasn't yet had the sobering pleasure of reading it. (And even if one has seen the NIGHT GALLERY adaptation, one should read's deeper and generally better...which is not to criticize Jack Albertson's fine performance as I remember it from decades ago.)

Jack Seabrook said...

How did I miss this book in 1987? It looks like a good one! I always liked the TV version of "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes," probably because young me was captivated by Joanna Pettet...

Jerry House said...

Jack, every young male was captivated by Joanna Pettet.

Todd Mason said...

As a middle-aged male, I'm still susceptible to Ms. Pettet's various sorts of charm, for all that her first tv gig was in the year I was born. A pity her turn in the Leiber adaptation was sunk by poor scripting, as opposed to also bad casting for "The Dead Man." Hope she's feeling well in her current circumstances, retired and 78yo.

Jack, I suspect you missed this book because, if anything, Dembner was an even more obscure house than Knightsbridge (ISFDB unaware of the paperback--my copy is a library discard of the hardcover). It had no reviews in the relevant magazines I'm aware of, and I only recently became aware of it.

Todd Mason said...

I see she was also in their adaptation of "The House" haunted by Pettet might not be so bad...

Mike Doran said...

In re "The Little Black Bag" on Night Gallery:

I checked the DVD.

Jack Albertson wasn't in it.

The doctor was Burgess Meredith.

The "assistant" was Chill Wills.

Just so you know...

Todd Mason said...

Thanks! Default assistant, as I wrote...but there's the danger of relying too readily on decades-old memory! Meredith a more memorable actor than Albertson...