Thursday, September 16, 2021

Mathew Paust, RIP

Matt's Blog:  Crime Time

Here's the obit he wrote for himself, as he could see the end, with bladder cancer:

Mathew David Paust has at last slipped quietly away from the furiously whirling social experiment known throughout the galaxy, and perhaps beyond – and not without a chuckle, groan, snort, or perhaps something more imaginative – as “Earth.”

For all we know, Mr. Paust’s spirit may at this moment be strolling in celestial glory with angels or getting his ticket stamped by Beelzebub or standing alone on a corner in Winslow Arizona. What we can say with certainty is that his physical remains are stashed for the time being in a Maxwell House (good to the last drop) coffee can to be sprinkled by loved ones at a time and in an undoubtedly breezeless location of their choice.

Mr. Paust was born in Columbus, Wisconsin, two days before Japanese war planes bombed U.S. Naval ships at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Turmoil on the Korean Peninsula had occupied world military considerations by the time Mr. Paust entered the U. of Wis., and Ike was quietly ensconced on the Burning Tree Golf Course (when not punching spike holes in the White House floor boards.) After three years of severe collegiate embarrassment Mr. Paust escaped into the martial hysteria himself, joining the U.S Army where he served four years learning that book learning beats the hell out of ground pounding. He returned to academia, from which he graduated eventually with a bachelor of arts degree that launched him on a career in journalism. He spent the rest of his working life reporting and developing his writing skills for a series of mediocre news organizations, retiring from the Newport News, Va., Daily Press several steps ahead of the news industry’s absorption into the more lucrative entertainment industry. Ultimately stumbling into that field alone Mr. Paust has managed a blog, Matt Paust’s Crime Time, and self-published several books, which can be found in paperback and Kindle formats at

Mr. Paust was fortunate to have raised three beautiful children. He is survived by a sister, Jeni Starritt (John), a daughter, Sarah (Jake Ryan), sons, Joshua Rackley (Anne), and Michael Rackley (Shannon), and two adorable grandchildren.

Arrangements are pending with Hogg Funeral Home and Cremation.

And Matt's farewell at Fictionaut:

Dear friends,

Sorry to spring this on some of you rather unexpectedly. As most of you know, I do not like to talk about my personal problems -- especially health issues. For those not quite up to speed, it's time to let you know the cancer has pretty much had its way with me. Not sure how much time is left, but I wanted to get this to you while I still have a little left of what I consider to be the best of my faculties, i.e. irreverent sense of humor. I wrote my obituary (attached) with this consideration in mind. My daughter, Sarah, is in charge of arrangements (and please keep this private until D Day or unless my condition continues to drag out -- for the better, of course).

So . . . then there now, goodbye and good fortune to you and your loved ones. Maybe we'll meet again someday. Lunch is on me of course at oh, say, how about that corner in Winslow Arizona?

Love, Matt

December 5, 1941-September 18, 2021

Matt Paust on YouTube:

I owe an apology to readers here...Fictionaut and subsequently Facebook were announcing Matt's death as early as 7 September, and rather than bother the family, I waited to see if anyone would post on either site something which would confirm matters, or suggest people were assuming Matt's early, extremely limited circulation of his obituary above was indicative of even greater imminence than was. 

More the fool, I. But my incomplete caution did have me anticipating matters by only two days.

As Matt's close friend Shirley Chirch informed us this morning:

On behalf of Matt, I wanted to let his friends on this list know that he passed gently into the mist while listening to a lullaby yesterday morning. 

And, in reference to the too-early notes on Facebook and Fictionaut, she noted:

He laughed so hard when I told him his obit had already run. you should get some enjoyment out of that...he said he felt like Mark Twain and reports of his death were greatly exaggerated!

So, a small, unintentional gift near the end. TM

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

short stories by Eudora Welty, Robert M. Coates, James Still, and Edita Morris, from THE WORLD WITHIN: FICTION ILLUMINATING NEUROSES OF OUR TIME edited by Mary Louise Aswell (with commentary by Frederic Wertham[!]) (Whittlesey House/McGraw-Hill 1947): Short Story Wednesday

Foreword: The Wing of Madness / Mary Louise Aswell 

Introduction: The Dreams that Heal / Frederic Wertham 

The Story of Serapion / E.T.A. Hoffman (translation uncredited)

Notes from the Underground (excerpt) / Feodor Dostoevsky (translated by Constance Garnett) White Nights and Other Stories Macmillan 1918

The Black Monk / Anton Chekhov (translated by Constance Garnett) Lady with a Dog Macmillan 1917

The Beast in the Jungle / Henry James The Better Sort Scribners 1903

The Orchid and the Bee (excerpt from Cities of the Plain) / Marcel Proust (translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff) Random House 1936

Metamorphosis / Franz Kafka (translation uncredited)

Silent Snow, Secret Snow / Conrad Aiken The Virginia Quarterly Review October 1932

The Door / E.B. White The New Yorker March 25, 1939

I Am Lazarus / Anna Kavan I Am Lazarus Jonathan Cape 1945

The Headless Hawk / Truman Capote Harper's Bazaar October 1945

Caput mortuum / Edita Morris Harper’s Bazaar  June 1941

The Fury / Robert M. Coates  The New Yorker August 15 1936

Mrs. Razor / James Still The Atlantic Monthly July 1945 (reprinted in The Pocket Atlantic edited by Edward Weeks, Pocket Books 1946)

Why I Live at the P.O. / Eudora Welty A Curtain of Green Doubleday 1941

Percy Grimm (an excerpt from Light in August)/ William Faulkner Random House 1932

Mary Louise Aswell, fiction editor of Harper's Bazaar and editor of It's A Woman's World, the anthology of fiction from HB a few years earlier (and the subject of an SSW piece a few weeks ago) continued to do some interesting things in anthologies in the coming years, including after leaving the magazine. This theme anthology counts as one of those, mixing as it does various horror and suspense stories with slightly more mundane sorts of psychodrama, with commentary appended, including probably the most famous single short story by Eudora Welty, "Why I Live at the P.O." Revered as an essentially comic piece, Aswell and, of all people, Frederic Wertham take it as indicative of disordered minds at liberty, as opposed to a not too-exaggerated lampoon of how things go in far too many families, albeit this one living in Mississippi and speaking in the patois associated with that state in midcentury. (If one doesn't recall Wertham, he was perhaps among the most consequential of pop-culture psychiatrists in the '50s, most famous for his attack on comic books Seduction of the Innocent, but also one to take the opportunity to add his not always perceptive commentary to a variety of pop-culture and more tightly-focused expression.) James Still's "Mrs. Razor" is even more like a folk-tale, though also even more steeped in the relatively straightforward details of family life in rural Kentucky at the time, wherein an imaginative, perhaps obsessive little girl imagines herself the bereft wife of a man named Razor, and her parents choose to let her play out the bit of tragedy to get it out of her system. Robert Coates's "The Fury" deals relatively straightforwardly with a man who finds himself tempted by the "wanton" women and particularly girls he encounters on a particular day in his walking through the streets of Manhattan...and how this particular set of encounters is resolved, after some of the local adults take note of his behavior. While Edita Morris's "Caput Mortuum" takes the form of a reverie between father and daughters, and is somewhat less sinister, but not lacking in sorrow, as he recounts the happier (through the haze) days of the past between a then clearly alcoholic man and his similarly-afflicted wife and his daughters' mother...this story is closest to taking the form of a fable to make its point.

As one might note from the balance of the contents, in large part a mix of chestnuts and landmarks of literature, probably for the most part at least as familiar to readers now as they were 3/4 of a century ago, along with work now relatively obscure. It's a book swinging for the fences, and while rather over-earnest while striving for its goal, does manage to gather an impressive mix of fiction in doing so.

This book can be read here.

For more of this week's Short Story Wednesday entries, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

stories by Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, Avram Davidson, Rosel George Brown, Fredric Brown, Frederik Pohl & C. M. Kornbluth, Eric Frank Russell, et al; columns by Asimov, Bester, Moskowitz: FANTASTIC August 1960, edited by Cele Goldsmith Lalli; THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION October 1961, edited by Robert P. Mills: Short Story Wednesday

Off the shelf--from six decades ago, and featuring some of the more-admired stories of Vonnegut and Bloch, and "rare" stories by similarly notable writers...

Fantastic [v9 #8, August 1960] (35¢, 132pp, digest, cover by Albert Nuetzelledited by Cele Goldsmith

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction [v21 #4, No. 125, October 1961] (40¢, 132pp, digest, cover by Chesley Bonestell)  edited by Robert P. Mills

As is utterly, perhaps tiresomely obvious to those who've been reading my blog entries over the years, that along with loving such magazines as Lewis Lapham's Harper's, particularly after its revamp and re-energization in 1983 (and how much The Atlantic had been on a downward slide since I first picked it up in 1978, one it hasn't ever reversed--for that matter, it was a better magazine in the '60s...), and Our Generation, the Montreal-based anarchist and libertarian socialist journal (even if I ended up contributing to Social Anarchism out of Baltimore instead--OG already had Noam Chomsky and Janet Biehl and George Woodcock and Murray Bookchin--as well as The Progressive in my early writing career, before both OG and SA folded), and loving fiction magazines and slightly more eclectic literary magazines (was even very briefly editor-in-chief of Hawai'i Review at the dawn of my arguably pro writing and editorial efforts, in 1983), particularly the likes of Ontario Review and The Paris Review and Short Story International, the crime fiction magazines (particularly The New Black Mask but also the veterans), the sf magazines, and the odd western or other specialized title that might come my way...with all of that, the fantasy and horror fiction magazines have had a special place in my heart, and in 1977 I voraciously fell upon The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (1949-date) and Fantastic (1952-1980, incorporated to a notable degree into its older stablemate Amazing Stories, at that time, and briefly revived since). I had learned of their existence in the previous-publication credits in various anthologies I'd read since about age 9, though even earlier I was beginning to seek out horror anthologies and the eclectic anthologies attributed to Alfred Hitchcock. New issues off the stands of both F&SF and Fantastic were a joy, along with such others as the little magazine Whispers and the companion Doubleday anthology series it spawned (or the companion Doubleday series Shadows) and such annuals as Gerald Page's The Year's Best Horror Fiction or Terry Carr's new Year's Finest Fantasy, and all the back issues I could dig up (not too tough even then, though not as easy as in these days of web marketing). With the folding of Fantastic, one magazine or another would tend to "take its spot" on newsstands and otherwise, whether it was Twilight Zone Magazine (and its short-lived companion Night Cry), the reasonably hardy late 1980s revival of Weird Tales (still rumored to be a going concern, though the recent death of the most recent editor and publisher, Marvin Kaye, probably means this revival has ceased completely) or the slick if rather busy-looking Realms of Fantasy, while F&SF has soldiered on.

So, for today's consideration, two relatively random, reasonably contemporaneous back issues I happened to be moving from one spot to being the first publication site for Kurt Vonnegut's most popular single short story, and notable that it didn't find a home with The Saturday Evening Post or Esquire (or Esquire's offspring, Playboy and its imitators), but apparently it wasn't stroking their fur quite the right way. Shirley Jackson had placed four stories with F&SF and one with Fantastic in the 1950s, stories that likewise should've been snapped up by Redbook or The New Yorker, but apparently were the Wrong kind of strange for the less-adventurous post-Harold Ross TNY or even the more literary women's magazines (though Redbook was pitching itself at young married couples for most of the '50s)...the fantasy magazines, and their founding editors Anthony Boucher and Howard Browne, took the stories even if they weren't quite fantasy. Not the only time they would make that exception for their fantasy/sf titles.  (Boucher and his co-founding editor J. Francis McComas would both take her first story for the magazine, "Bulletin" in 1954, but from her next and most famous F&SF offer "One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts" [1955] her appearances in the magazine were in Boucher solo issues. That Boucher and Browne were also notable crime-fiction writers among other interests, not least seeking prestige for their magazines, might also have made it more attractive than solely commercial good sense to pick up the Jacksons.)

"Harrison Bergeron" isn't the most subtle of Vonnegut's stories, which probably helps to explain its relative popularity, but it is rather funny while pounding its point into the ground with more urgency than slyness. As you might know, it's the allegory of a rebel in a society that hopes to make all persons equal in every manner by, for example, constantly piping a cacophony of noises into the ears of the musically talented, and hobbling the good dancers. More, apparently, a mockery of anti-intellectualism and rigidly-imposed conformity than of egalitarianism, it can also stroke those who feel their greatness (however actually limited) stymied by the jealousy and backstabbing of the ants around them. And it leads off this, the 17th Anniversary issue, part of a trend for the year-marking F&SF issues to be "All-Star" affairs (also, in later years, issues with which the cover price needed to be raised would also be All-Star issues). And, like a number of the stories in these two issues, it is rather short, almost a vignette.

Robert P. Mills was at least as much a sophisticate in his editorial tastes as Boucher, or, rather, didn't feel he needed to obviously cater to a relative lack of sophistication in the fantasy/sf magazine readership (Boucher would, in his book review columns for F&SF itself, make reference to how the likes of Mark Van Doren's fantasies might well go over the heads of the magazine's readership, unlike those of, say, Ray Bradbury.) Mills was also not the writer that Boucher was, nor quite the artistic polymath (Boucher was also expert in at least one musical field, opera, in which he conducted a weekly program for Pacifica Radio from the station/network's foundation till his death), but if he was quite as willing to limit his magazines' horizons as Boucher was, he wouldn't advertise the fact so baldly. The story Mills would publish in his F&SF that was even more famous than the Vonnegut would be Daniel Keyes's "Flowers for Algernon", the first published form of what Keyes would expand into a novel, famously adapted for television and film and discussed in George Kelley's Friday Books entry this past week. Before taking over F&SF from the retiring Boucher, Mills had edited the companion magazine Venture Science Fiction, which had picked up the banner from the slightly fading Galaxy magazine and Damon Knight's short term as editor of If: World of Science Fiction as the US sf magazine most likely to feature what Harlan Ellison would later tag "dangerous visions", and stories that dealt relatively frankly for the time in sexual matters and other taboo topics, albeit its leaning toward sometimes grim adventure fiction also saw it get some light mockery for being a magazine about manful suffering, in the post-Hemingway, Maileresque mode. While editing Venture, he continued to assist Boucher at F&SF, and Frederic Dannay as managing editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine (even through the transition in early 1958 due to EQMM's sale to B. G. Davis. leaving Ziff-Davis to found Davis Publications, for which EQMM would be a bedrock title), and apparently served as the uncredited editor of the last two other crime fiction magazines published by Mercury Press, Mercury Mystery Book-Magazine (merged with Bestseller in 1959) and Bestseller Mystery Magazine (folded 1962), both officially edited by publisher Joseph Ferman (Ferman would also, apparently for appearances' sake, take the "official" editorial title at F&SF for the first several months after his college-aged son Edward Ferman succeeded  Avram Davidson as the editor of F&SF, after Davidson would succeed Mills; Mills went on to be primarily a literary agent, and apparently a bit more than that for James Baldwin in terms of taking care of practical matters for the writer, for the rest of Mills's professional life.)

Leading off this issue of Fantastic, after a typically chatty and not terribly deep (if more self-revealing than usual, describing his own personal utopia, yacht-based) editorial by "editorial director" Norman Lobsenz (tasked, apparently, with making sure the young and not too experienced editor Cele Goldsmith, later to marry and sign herself, eventually, as Cele Goldsmith Lalli, didn't make any serious mistakes at her legacy--and mostly Just legacy--Ziff-Davis magazines), Robert Bloch's "The World Timer" is a novelet with Bloch in jokey mode, generally amiable even when the jokes don't land, in which he would frequently (though not always) write in the work published by the Ziff-Davis magazines going back to the late '30s (most famously, his "Lefty Feep" series of stories)...Isaac Asimov, in reading the Ray Palmer-edited issue of Amazing Stories that featured Asimov's first published story, noted that the only story he thought better than his own modest effort was Bloch's "The Strange Flight of Richard Clayton" (as Asimov noted in the course of introducing the Bloch story's inclusion in Asimov et al.'s retro best-of-the-year anthology devoted to fiction first published in 1939). But Bloch at the heart of this story is getting at some serious points about psychiatry, which he'd been studying to a great degree throughout the '50s while writing some of the most famous crime-fiction work of his career (including, unsurprisingly, 1959's Psycho); beyond the comedy of humors naming of his psychiatrist protagonist "Morton Placebo", and the pharmaceutical time-travel/psychedelics as warping objective reality plot used in the story, Bloch shares his concerns with the seedier and less responsible behavior in the profession, and considered this as a result one of his best stories for the purposes of his sf- and fantasy-heavy volume The Best of Robert Bloch (Ballantine 1976)(a couple of years later, he published with Ballantine/Del Rey a companion best-of devoted to his horror and suspense fiction).

As noted elsewhere on this blog, Cele Goldsmith, who had been initially hired at Ziff-Davis as a secretary and quickly handed the task of editing a short-lived magazine for finding Pen Pals, had also been tasked with helping Howard Browne and then Paul Fairman with traffic around the fiction magazines Ziff-Davis was still publishing, though with less enthusiasm than they had previously, expensive-hobby magazines (stereo equipment, boating, electronics, photography) becoming the publisher's bread and butter (leading to cofounder B. G. Davis leaving the company to strike out on his own with Davis Publications); Browne eventually and Fairman throughout his (rather dire) editorship took a factory approach to filling Fantastic and Amazing Stories, Fairman relying on a quintet of young writers (Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, Randall Garrett, Milton Lesser before legally changing his name to Stephen Marlowe, and Henry Slesar) for most of what he published in the magazines (including a brief run of wish-fulfillment fantasy magazine Dream World)--get it in Wednesday and make sure it Won't Cause Trouble, and you get a paycheck--if it's good, all the better, but that was secondary (Fairman famously didn't bother to read what he bought from his quintet). Goldsmith at this point was combing through the unsolicited manuscripts, the "slush pile", which is how, among other rather good work, Kate Wilhelm's first published story was in Fantastic in 1956. So, when Fairman resigned in '58 (and oddly enough was soon working as Assistant Editor at the Davis Publications Ellery Queen's), William Ziff and company offered young Goldsmith actual editorship of Fantastic and Amazing, with a penny/word budget for the fiction and other content, gave Lobsenz the task of keeping an eye on her and writing the "editorials" and usually conducting the letter column, and blurbing the contents, while Goldsmith tried to learn as fast as she could about fantasy and sf, and how to properly edit a magazine. One of her self-assigned projects was to lure Fritz Leiber out of one of his periodic bouts of crippling alcoholism and get him back to writing, squeezing her budget for at least 2c/word for his contributions and those of a few others, and publishing the first stories of  a remarkable number of new talents; she never won the Hugo Award for best magazine (her two magazines would compete with each other, splitting vote totals), but she did get a special award at one World Convention, for her work at improving the Ziff-Davis magazines.  When ZD found a buyer for Fantastic (the brief period of it being titled Fantastic Science Fiction, with the notion that sf sold better in magazines than fantasy did, was followed [beginning two issues after the August issue discussed here] by a longer run as Fantastic: Stories of Imagination, a rather more accurate title), and Amazing Stories (or, in the same Goldsmith/Lalli years, Amazing Stories: Fact and Science Fiction), they sold the magazines out from under her rather abruptly, and she was redeployed to ZD's bridal magazines, where she soon became the dominant and most admired editor in that specialized fashion/planning field for the rest of a lengthy career. (While ZD's Popular Electronics and Electronics World magazines ended up being the most obvious progenitors of Ziff-Davis's ultimate fate as a brand of computer information publisher and web/cable tv producer.)

But Leiber wasn't the only veteran writer Goldsmith/Lalli was interested in taking work from, even if the Leiber story, "Rats of Limbo" (not yet reprinted anywhere, as far as I know) reads like the transcript of a surreal nightmare for its brief run, with its protagonist in Limbo but tormented, in a fashion reminiscent of Sisyphus's punishment, by among others the specter of Robert E. Lee and a bevy of rats. Fredric Brown also has a similar vignette in the issue, "The House", which Brown scholar Jack Seabrook reminds me was included in Brown's most widely distributed collection, Nightmares and Geezenstacks (Bantam 1961), and two other Brown retrospectives since; it's an enigmatic and highly symbolic account of a traversal of a house that might symbolize a metaphor or psychodrama of a life coming to its end, but resists easy interpretation. It definitely reads as if it resonates more deeply with Brown than Leiber's, which can be seen as a kind of jest in comparison, does with him (look to the plays for voices by Leiber such as "The Secret Songs" and  "247 Talking Statues, Etc." for similarly obviously deeply-felt work). The kind of enigmatic fiction that Goldsmith Lalli was more open to than more seasoned editors, less receptive to non-linear narratives than old hands...though Mills and particularly his F&SF successor Davidson would be more open than many of their colleagues to this kind of story as well, with the result their magazines helped spark "the New Wave" along with the British magazines New Worlds and Science Fantasy, and such anthology series as Damon Knight's Orbit and Samuel Delany and Marilyn Hacker's Quark in later years. 

More to come...

For more (and, at the moment, more complete!) Wednesday Short Story entries, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Stephen Gallagher: "The Governess: A Professor Challenger Story as told by Mr. Edward Malone..." (2020 chapbook) Brooligan Press: a Short Story Wednesday review

Stephen Gallagher is a deft hand in at least two media, prose and scriptwriting (primarily for television drama), and his Brooligan Press has republished his own work and offered volumes by others, including  fiction-writer and film critic Anne Billson, whose novel The Ex had only previously been self-published through CreateSpace (other novels by her had been published by actual publishing houses), as well as having offered some original chapbooks, such as this one. Among his most popular work in both forms has been related to the literary creations and extra-literary career of Arthur Conan Doyle, perhaps most famously The Kingdom of Bones, both as a novel and an episode of Murder Rooms, the British anthology series; this, as the careful annotation above suggests, is a pastiche of Doyle's Professor Challenger and Malone stories, one which doesn't require having read much of the original Challenger stories (I've read perhaps two, and those probably 45 years ago) for enjoyment, though I suspect the enjoyment will be deepened.

Malone approaches Challenger, after Malone's divorce from the older man's daughter, that divorce inspired by Malone's dalliance with another woman that had resulted in a son (Gallagher has Challenger refer to the "illegitimate" child as a "b----" [Gallagher's self-censorship], in the Proper argot of Doyle's early career). Unfortunately, the child has died, and Malone has begun to be haunted...perhaps Challenger can be persuaded to help, for the child's spirit's  sake. Thus some dealings with an unsavory mystic (as distinct from the mediums Challenger is more comfortable with) and a rather Dante-esque and cosmic discovery awaits them all, including a meeting with the titular force. 

It's great fun, and perches cheerfully at the borders of horror and fantasy, as well as being expert historical pastiche. 

The Governess has "repurposed" illustrations appropriate to "its era" by Walter S. Stacy (1846-1929) and, as one admirer noted in an even briefer review, even provides its ads for other Gallagher volumes in the Edwardian style.

For more of this week's short stories, please see Patti Abbott's blog.