Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Short Story Wednesday: Margaret St. Clair, Ed Gorman, Fritz Leiber, Robert Bloch, Manly Wade Wellman, Ambrose Bierce, Zona Gale, Elizabeth Kostova, Eileen Pollack, Nicholas Delbanco, Laura Kasischke, Keith Taylor: GHOSTS OF THE HEARTLAND edited by Frank McSherry, M. H. Greenberg & Charles Waugh (Rutledge Hill Press 1990); GHOST WRITERS edited by Laura Kasischke and Keith Taylor (Wayne State University Press 2011)

Terror and Even More Regret at the (Northerly) Center of the Contiguous 48...

Ghosts of the Heartland ed. Frank D. McSherry, Jr.Charles G. Waugh & Martin H. Greenberg (Rutledge Hill Press 1-55853-068-1, Apr ’90, $9.95, 210pp, tp, cover by Harriette Bateman) Anthology of 18 ghost stories set in the Midwest.

  • viii · Can There Be Such Things? Here? · Frank D. McSherry, Jr. · in
  • 1 · But at My Back I Will Always Hear · David Morrell · ss Shadows #6, ed. Charles L. Grant, Doubleday, 1983 (set in Iowa)
  • 18 · Death’s Door · Robert McNear · nv Playboy Mar ’69 (Wisconsin)
  • 40 · Little Jimmy · Lester del Rey · ss The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction Apr ’57 (Iowa)
  • 55 · Floral Tribute · Robert Bloch · ss Weird Tales  Jul ’49 (Illinois)
  • 67 · Stillwater, 1896 · Michael Cassutt · ss  Shadows #7, ed. Charles L. Grant, Doubleday, 1984 (Minnesota)
  • 78 · The Boarded Window · Ambrose Bierce · ss San Francisco Examiner Jul 14, 1889 (Ohio)
  • 83 · Listen, Children, Listen! · Wallace West · ss Fantastic Universe Oct/Nov ’53 (Indiana)
  • 96 · Professor Kate · Margaret St. Clair · ss Weird Tales Jan ’51 (Oklahoma)
  • 103 · The Skeleton on Round Island · Mary Hartwell Catherwood · ss Mackinac and Lake Stories, Harpers, 1899 (Michigan)
  • 113 · One for the Crow · Mary Barrett · ss Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine Mar ’73 (Missouri)
  • 122 · School for the Unspeakable · Manly Wade Wellman · ss Weird Tales Sep ’37 (North Dakota)
  • 133 · Different Kinds of Dead · Ed Gorman · ss * (first appeared here) (Nebraska)
  • 140 · Deadlights · Charles Wagner · ss Twisted Tales #9 ’84 (Kansas)
  • 149 · The Bridal Pond · Zona Gale · ss The American Mercury Feb ’28; Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine Oct ’49 (Wisconsin)
  • 155 · A Wounded Knee Fairy Tale · Craig Kee Strete · ss · Dreams That Burn in the Night, Doubleday, 1982 [published earlier in translation] (South Dakota)
  • 162 · Shaggy Vengeance · Robert Adams · nv Amazing Jul ’84 (North Dakota)
  • 187 · He Walked by Day · Julius Long · ss Weird Tales Jun ’34 (Ohio)
  • 194 · Smoke Ghost · Fritz Leiber · ss Unknown: Fantasy Fiction Oct ’41 (Illinois)
Two volumes, one taking horror and fantasy fiction set in a pretty broad definition of the US midwest, the other collecting original stories set in focusing on veteran writers of the fantastic (with a few comparative dabblers mixed in), the other mostly devoted to those who usually write mimetic fiction (arguably amusingly, the biggest "names" in the Michigan volume are either best-known for horror--Kostova--or have written notable borderline sf--Delbanco). All original stories in the newer book, only Ed Gorman's story newly published in the elder. Not all that surprisingly, and not just because of the similarity of setting and nature of the fiction, not too much dissimilarity of approach or result...even if the first book is much more comfortable with literal ghosts than is the second.

Among the stories in Ghosts of the Heartland:
"Smoke Ghost" by Fritz Leiber is probably the most influential and, frankly, important of the stories collected in this of the founding texts of urban fantasy and what can be termed "modern horror", fully incorporating the existential horror lessons of Lovecraft (and, in a sense, Kafka) and Lovecraft's more slavish followers into a literary context more in tune with the Edwardian and subsequent horror-fiction writers in Britain and such US fellow-travelers as Ambrose Bierce, Stephen Vincent Benet and Conrad Aiken, as well as such fellow contributors to Weird Tales and Unknown as Robert Bloch, Manly Wade Wellman, H. R. Wakefield, Algernon Blackwood, Jane Rice, Catherine L. Moore and Henry Kuttner, Theodore Sturgeon, Fredric Brown, Ray Bradbury, and Margaret St. Clair, along with other continuing innovators such as Shirley Jackson, Daphne du Maurier and John Collier. Leiber posits that the haunts of industrial Chicago, and thus the world of soot and smoke it sits in, have a new character, new demands on us, no less taxing than the ghosts of yore. The Bloch and Wellman stories are good examples of their work, as well, but less key, if also in Bloch's case from the period of his completely having moved away from writing Lovecraft pastiche and something more fully his own. The St. Clair is a consistently eerie bit of historical horror, suggesting a supernatural fate for the murderous (and mysteriously vanished shortly after discovery of their crimes) "Bender Family" of post-Civil War Kansas. The Bierce is even more a chestnut in anthologies, and for good reason (aside from public domain status), than are the Leiber, Bloch or Wellman stories. 

Less well-known are Ed Gorman's "Different Kinds of Dead", which is a suitably noirish sort of actual ghost story, and Zona Gale's interesting, allusive account of whether or not a certain couple made it past their honeymoon. I've not yet delved into the other stories in the McSherry, Greenberg and Waugh volume; McSherry, in his introduction to the book, made it clear that there were actual Benders that "Professor Kate" is about, which I didn't know till now, though I've had a copy of the January 1951 issue of Weird Tales including that story for some years, and let Prof. Kate Laity know about the story's existence shortly after purchase.

Among the stories in Ghost Writers: Elizabeth Kostova's is the story I've read so far here that most fully embraces the probable supernatural nature of its events, involving a young father and his very young kids' encounter with an avuncular man of seemingly indeterminate but variously-cited great age, who is taking full advantage of his last day of work (he notes) at a low-rent but Disney-like theme park, where every ride has its own ticket. Kostova being easily the best-known writer in the book, due to her historical horror fiction, it's somewhat unsurprising that she is least afraid of having this benevolent possible jokester and probable actual ghost lean in that direction. Nicholas Delbanco's typically eloquent prose is put in service of a consideration of historical injustice, as well as a refurbished house with raccoon squatters; Eileen Pollack's story seems likely to endorse its supernatural nature, up through a long infodump about the nature of the late, controversial priest at the heart of the narrative, but takes a turn toward the all too human monstrosities that priest both suffered and inflicted, as well as those her protagonist's family and her husband's had faced in varying ways, most tellingly during World War 2--the story so far that makes the most hay with the authoritarian "militias" arising in Michigan over the last half-century or so. 

Editors Laura Kasischke and Keith Taylor seem a bit 
more playful with the boundaries of mimetic and fantastic fiction (and Taylor with crime fiction as well); Kasischke's protagonist isn't at all sure that some very potent marijuana wasn't responsible for her vision of ghosts, one of whom is stealing one of her old dresses meant for charity donation; Taylor's involves some fairly rural and provincial teachers, in to Detroit for the day as chaperones for students on a job fair, and particularly for one a somewhat sinister passage through an art gallery and an even more sinister encounter on the drive home, shared with two colleagues. So far, in average quality in this book is at a disadvantage, not being able to tap riches going back most of a century like the other, but not so much that I won't read further in this solid anthology, as well. (Keith Taylor the co-editor isn't the Australian fantasist Keith Taylor aka "Dennis More" and other bylines, nor the English horror-adventure novelist Keith Taylor, nor even the 1940s UK fanzine editor/publisher Keith Taylor, but the Canadian-born, US writer and retired professor of English at Wayne State, I gather spoken very highly of by former student Megan Abbott, among others.)

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Short Story Wednesday: "lost" (to water damage) Robert Bloch collections: PLEASANT DREAMS (Jove 1979 edition); BLOOD RUNS COLD (Popular Library 1963 edition)

a Short Story Wednesday lament: 

    Blood Runs Cold Robert Bloch (Simon & Schuster, 1961, $3.50, 246pp, hc, cover by Tony Palladino)
    Also in pb (Popular Library Oct ’62; 50c). [There seems to be some disagreement in various listings as to when the paperback edition was published; my soon-recycled ruined copy's edition lists only the S&S first publication dates, so no help, but paperbacks did usually appear the next year in those years, so '62 isn't unlikely. TM]
    • The Show Must Go On · ss Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine Jan 1960
    • The Cure · ss Playboy Oct 1957
    • Daybroke · ss Star Science Fiction Magazine Jan 1958
    • Show Biz · ss Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine May 1959
    • The Masterpiece · ss Rogue Jun 1960
    • I Like Blondes · ss Playboy Jan 1956
    • Dig That Crazy Grave! · ss Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Jun 1957
    • Where the Buffalo Roam · ss Other Worlds Science Stories Jul 1955
    • Is Betsy Blake Still Alive? · ss Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Apr 1958
    • Word of Honor · ss Playboy Aug 1958
    • The Final Performance · ss Shock—The Magazine of Terrifying Tales Sep 1960
    • All on a Golden Afternoon · nv F&SF Jun 1956
    • The Gloating Place · ss Rogue Jun 1959
    • The Pin · ss Amazing Dec 1953/Jan ’54
    • I Do Not Love Thee, Doctor Fell · ss F&SF Mar 1955
    • The Big Kick · ss Rogue Jul 1959
    • Sock Finish · nv Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Nov 1957
    Pleasant Dreams Robert Bloch (Jove 0-515-04743-0, Jun ’79, $1.75, 252pp, pb)
    Contents differ from Arkham 1960 edition, back cover lists teasers for four stories, three of which are not in this edition. [These "missing" stories are "Enoch", "Mr. Steinway" and "That Hell-Bound Train"--TM]
    • 7 · Sweets to the Sweet · ss Weird Tales Mar 1947
    • 17 · The Dream Makers · nv Beyond Fantasy Fiction Sep 1953
    • 49 · The Sorcerer’s Apprentice · ss Weird Tales Jan 1949
    • 63 · I Kiss Your Shadow · ss F&SF Apr 1956
    • 85 · The Proper Spirit · ss F&SF Mar 1957
    • 95 · The Cheaters · nv Weird Tales Nov 1947
    • 117 · Hungarian Rhapsody · ss Fantastic Jun 1958, as by Wilson Kane
    • 129 · The Light-House · Edgar Allan Poe & Robert Bloch · ss Fantastic Jan/Feb 1953; completed by Bloch from a Poe fragment.
    • 147 · The Hungry House · ss Imagination Apr 1951
    • 171 · Sleeping Beauty · ss Swank Mar 1958, as “The Sleeping Redheads”
    • 187 · Sweet Sixteen · ss Fantastic May 1958, as “Spawn of the Dark One”
    • 209 · The Mandarin’s Canaries · ss Weird Tales Sep 1938
    • 223 · Return to the Sabbath · ss Weird Tales Jul 1938
    • 241 · One Way to Mars · ss Weird Tales Jul 1945
The original edition's contents:
    Pleasant Dreams Robert Bloch (Arkham House, 1960, $4.00, 233pp, hc)
    • Sweets to the Sweet · ss Weird Tales Mar 1947
    • The Dream Makers · nv Beyond Fantasy Fiction Sep 1953
    • The Sorcerer’s Apprentice · ss Weird Tales Jan 1949
    • I Kiss Your Shadow · ss F&SF Apr 1956
    • Mr. Steinway · ss Fantastic Apr 1954
    • The Proper Spirit · ss F&SF Mar 1957
    • Catnip · ss Weird Tales Mar 1948
    • The Cheaters · nv Weird Tales Nov 1947
    • Hungarian Rhapsody · ss Fantastic Jun 1958, as by Wilson Kane
    • The Light-House · ss Fantastic Jan/Feb 1953; completed by Bloch from a Poe fragment.
    • The Hungry House · ss Imagination Apr 1951
    • Sleeping Beauty · ss Swank Mar 1958, as “The Sleeping Redheads”
    • Sweet Sixteen · ss Fantastic May 1958, as “Spawn of the Dark One”
    • That Hell-Bound Train · ss F&SF Sep 1958
    • Enoch · ss Weird Tales Sep 1946

If you wanted a representative sampling of Robert Bloch's good to best work in short fiction in the latter 1940s through the earliest '60s, these are fine books to pick up, even if a few of his most notable stories of the latest '50s and turn of the '60s, such as "The Funnel of God" and "A Home Away from Home", are not included in them. The Jove edition of Pleasant Dreams, from 1979 and not too long after Harcourt Brace Jovanovich bought the paperback publisher Pyramid Books and redubbed it Jove, was reshaped, one suspects either by Bloch himself or in consultation with him, to omit the stories then-recently collected in The Best of Robert Bloch (Ballantine/Del Rey 1977) and Such Stuff as Screams Are Made Of (B/DR 1979), career retrospectives mostly mining the fantasy and sf short fiction work and the horror and suspense work respectively of Bloch to date at that time...and to add a few stories from Bloch's first hardcover collection, The Opener of the Way, a book which Bloch presumably wasn't too eager to bring back into print in toto. Some relevant confusion clearly led to the bad back-cover blurbing referred to above.

I remember my father, Robert Mason (1937-2020), buying me that Jove edition while we were on the 1979 road trip to visit our extended families on the East Coast just before the family's relocation from New Hampshire to Hawaii; he wasn't feeling too generous at the time, or was simply annoyed with me (can't imagine how that would happen), but made a weak objection to buying a paperback horror collection since the writers who wrote such things were simply delusional and believed in such things as ghosts and goblins, which I immediately, perhaps not quite gently but certainly deservedly, mocked. Perhaps in part in realizing what a nonsensical objection that was, as someone who'd read Bloch's work from time to time over the years, he relented. I'm not sure which secondhand store or library sale I'd picked up that (probably previously unread) copy of Blood Runs Cold from, sometime also in 1978 0r '79, in either New Hampshire or Hawaii, but I was glad to have it; also gathered about then by me, such contemporary collections by Bloch as Atoms and Evil (Fawcett Gold Medal 1963, and focusing on his then-recent science fiction and science-fantasy; from the Kailua Library sales-shelf in 1979 and in rough shape at time of purchase), while containing some good stories, lacked the heft of the work these two paperbacks offered ("Talent" is perhaps the best story in that volume, but it's not quite up to "The Final Performance" nor "Sweets to the Sweet") . So, it took forty-one or -two years for some small but demoralizing bad luck on my part to ruin my copies.

I think I'll replace them. They don't run too cheap these days.

Please see Patti Abbott's blog for today's more prompt and less self-involved SSW entries.