Wednesday, February 16, 2022

SSW: Eleanor Sullivan, editor: ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S ANTHOLOGY issue 4; Spring/Summer 1979 (Davis Publications)/ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S TALES TO SCARE YOU STIFF (Dial Press 1978) simultaneous Winter '78 publication

It's a magazine, and it's a hardcover...the latter has better paper, but the same typesetting; the covers are comparably uninspiring. Dell, parent company of the Dial Press, all  just purchased in 1976 by Doubleday, continues its long history of being in the Hitchcock book business...before eventually purchasing Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and its fiction-magazine stablemates from the then-collapsing Davis Publications in the early 1990s. The Dial hardcovers were mostly aimed at the library market, though Doubleday's relatively cheap production methods meant the hardcovers weren't the most durable of volumes--the glued (rather than sewn) first signature of my copy, having already been creased severely by some previous reader (this wasn't a discard, but I did pick it up at a library sale) broke away from the binding as I rather carefully read it...I suspect the magazine form would be hardier.

In the Beginning, or at least in 1945, Dell Books begat the first anthology attributed to then-young-middle-aged film director Alfred Hitchcock, in the Dell MapBack paperback series, Suspense Stories. This also began Dell's rather devious (but hardly unique) practice of obscuring the actual editor of the Hitchcock (or other famous person) volumes, who in this case was probably Dell's own Don Ward, who edited most of the early Dell "Hitchcock" paperbacks, as well as the Dell magazine Zane Grey's Western Magazine (which ran from 1946 to 1954, and which got better and better the less Grey fiction it reprinted). In 1956, HSD Publications was formed to publish Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, not at all coincidentally with Alfred Hitchcock Presents: beginning its television career in Fall 1955. Likewise, by 1957, Random House engaged fiction and script-writer and magazine editor Robert Arthur to ghost-edit a series of anthologies also entitled Alfred Hitchcock Presents: [various usually darkly humorous subtitles]; by 1961, these were joined by a young readers' series, with the first volume, Alfred Hitchcock's Haunted Houseful, ghost-edited by YA specialist Muriel Fuller, but subsequent volumes, till his death in 1969, edited along with the adult-AHP: series by Arthur. (Arthur was also called to upon to devise a Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew-style series devoted to Hitchcock and the youthful The Three Investigators, and he wrote the first several volumes and edited the series initially afterward.) Other tv-driven projects included the 1957 Simon & Schuster anthology Stories They Wouldn't Let Me Do on TV, possibly assembled by Arthur but definitely by the network and/or sponsor censors via refusal (and in reprint editions, often intentionally retitled "AH Presents: Stories...") and writer Henry Slesar's first collection, an Avon Books paperback A Bouquet of Clean Crimes and Neat Murders; Slesar had contributed scripts and source stories to the AHP: tv series and Hitchcock branding was much in evidence. Meanwhile, Dell was very much interested in keeping their hand in, by reprinting the older anthologies they had originated and from others, publishing paperback editions of the Random House adult books that mostly split the hardcover contents into two softcover volumes, and, in the early '60s, beginning to publish best-of volumes from AH's Mystery Magazine...all packaged as if Hitchcock was the editor, and all looking rather like one another, whatever their content's source. In the UK in the latter '60s, busy editor Peter Haining would also begin editing "Hitchcock" anthologies, mostly not seen in the US (though Dell would publish the last one, in 1971) for Four Square, then New English Library.

HSD would publish the magazine till 1976, selling it in late '75 to Davis Publications, formed in the late '50s when B. G. Davis left Ziff-Davis in part because the house he co-founded was less and less interested in publishing fiction magazines; Davis started his second firm with the purchase of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine from Mercury Press, and one of Davis's innovations was to begin publishing as well a reprint magazine called Ellery Queen's Anthology drawing mostly from the back pages of late '76, under B. G.'s son Joel Davis's direction, Alfred Hitchcock's Anthology magazine had joined the stable...and the Dial Press hardcover editions came with them. Davis Publications, having suffered an expensive failure in launching a Sylvia Porter-branded financial-planning magazine, sold its fiction titles (at that point, the sf magazines Analog and Asimov's along with the two crime-fiction titles) to Dell's magazine arm in 1991; the last Anthology issues (including those spun off from the sf magazines) had appeared in 1988 (dated 1989). In 1996, Dell sold its magazine group, by then mostly devoted to crossword/word puzzle and astrology magazines along with the four fiction titles (Dell had briefly published an impressive Louis L'Amour Western Magazine as well in the mid '90s, but that had been folded before the sale and was not revived) to word-game specialist Penny Press, which has been publishing them since, doing business as Crosstown Publications/Dell Magazines.

Eleanor Sullivan had been Managing Editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine from 1970 at least through 1975, and was handed the reins to AHMM when it became a Davis Publication till 1981's penultimate issue; in 1981, after the death of Frederic Dannay, she edited both monthly magazines for about a year, and then handed editorship of Hitchcock's to Cathleen Jordan, a book editor who had been recommended to Joel Davis by Isaac Asimov. Jordan was a less-sure hand at the magazine, but did publish more horror fiction than Sullivan had, so a small favor there. Sullivan also edited, as a consequence, the first ten issues/volumes of Alfred Hitchcock's Anthology magazine, and under their various titles in the Dial Press editions.

AHMM, as this anthology-issue might suggest, was often among the best of crime-fiction magazines available during its run, and had certainly drawn fiction from many of the best active cf writers. EQMM had always had a bit more prestige, at least theoretically (and perhaps paid a bit more), though when Avram Davidson lampooned it in one of his fantasy stories as Quentin Queely's Mystery Museum, he wasn't alone in finding it at times a bit fusty; Manhunt and a few of its imitators in the 1950s were briefly providing even better issues, though most had folded by the turn of the '60s and Manhunt was on a severe downward slide that would continue till its folding in '68; The Saint magazine was interesting but erratic, as was the less well-funded but more consistently published Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine, the only primarily hardboiled cf magazine to run from the '50s into the '80s, unless one counted the then-mostly, but not exclusively, noirish AHMM, still published today. 

"Come Back, Come Back" was the second in the young Donald Westlake's short series of stories about aging, literally as well as a bit figuratively heart-sick police detective Abe Levine; they were collected, with a new story to wrap them up, in a 1984 volume. Westlake wasn't a kid by the time he was writing these, but this one was published before he was thirty; you can see him grappling with big thinks at every opportunity and not self-editing the explication of every character beat, as he would in his work not too long probably didn't hurt that Hitchcock's paid by the word, and this story could've been a tighter short story rather than the pretty good novelet that it is (apparently, Westlake notes in the Levine collection that he stopped writing the series of novelets when AHMM rejected the penultimate one--and for decades the last--for not being sufficiently criminous; Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine picked it up for publication a few years after the last AHMM entry, with Shayne a salvage market; the new story was placed with EQMM in '84, presumably just before the book's publication). Westlake's wit and incisiveness are on display...just not his usual later concision.

While Kate Wilhelm, also with one of her earlier stories, "A Case of Desperation", has her paring knife firmly in hand, and the casual bullying violence of the protagonist's kidnapper is chilling to read so plainly and concisely detailed. Worse still, for Marge, the experience of being taken at gunpoint from her bank-teller job, as hostage to help him with his robbery, has too many resonances with the rest of her life. Interesting to see the protagonist of Westlake's story and the utter, resentful, careful villain of this one both spout similar notions of How Men Are Kept From Being Men, and Don't you Want a Real Man in Your Life? Defined, apparently, as a benevolent (more or less) dictator. Contrasts slightly with the default shrewish wives and turning-worm husbands of too many of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents: tv episodes.  There is a bit of oddly overemphatic foreshadowing in the story's beginning, but otherwise it's about as quietly tough and emotionally complex as one might expect from Wilhelm.

More to come. The whole post is in italics because the substandard Acer laptop I'm using at the moment loves to grab not just the selected text but all the text it can just as one hits the italics button, and I'd gone through and corrected for about twenty minutes early this morning when I could've been reading more stories in this collection. So I did the faster version just now. I will soon beat the Acer to shards, or perhaps sanity will prevail.

For more of today's short fiction selections, 

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: In tribute to Shirley Jackson and Cornell Woolrich: Anthologies of new fiction: WHEN THINGS GET DARK edited by Ellen Datlow (Titan/Penguin 2021); BLACK AS THE NIGHT edited by Maxim Jakubowski (Titan/Penguin 2022)

4 October 2022
Black as the Night: Stories Inspired by Cornell Woolrich 
edited by Maxim Jakubowski * 448 pp.
Introduction/Maxim Jakubowski
Neil Gaiman/A Woolrich Appreciation
Joel Lane/The Black Window (poem)
Joseph S. Walker/A Shade Darker Than Gray
Vaseem Khan/A Thin Slice of Heaven
Charles Ardai/Sleep! Sleep! Beauty Bright
Kim Newman/Black Window
O'Neil De Noux/Blue Moon Over Burgundy
Paul Di Filippo/The Bride Hated Champagne
James Grady/Eyes Without a Face
Donna Moore/First You Dream, Then You Die
M. W. Craven/Institutional Memory
Ana Teresa Pereira/Looking For You Through the Gray Rain
Joe R. Lansdale/Missing Sister
William Boyle/New York Blues Redux
Kristine Kathryn Rusch/Our Opera Singer
Mason Cross/People You May Know
David Quantick/Red
Lavie Tidhar/The Case of Baby X
Tara Moss/The Husband Machine
Warren Moore/The Jacket
A.K. Benedict/The Lake, the Moon, and the Murder
Bill Pronzini/The Long Way Down
Nick Mamatas/The Man in the Sailor Suit
Max Décharné/The Woman at the Late Show
Martin Edwards/The Woman Who Never Was
Samantha Lee Howe/Trophy Wife
Brandon Barrows/Two Wrongs
Maxim Jakubowski/What Happens After the End
Susi Holliday/The Invitation
James Sallis/Parkview
and, in comments, Maxim Jakubowski notes that another story has been added:
Barry N. Malzberg/Phantom Gentleman
...and the further good news that he's contracted with Titan for a tribute anthology in honor of J.G. Ballard to be published in 2023...

• anthology edited by Ellen Datlow
Titan Books, a line from Penguin/Random House, is clearly in the tributes business, and one could only wish these two were published more closely together, as the overlap in audience between those who love the work of Jackson and of Woolrich is not one of unanimity, but it can't be too far from it. Both are best remembered for their work in the outré, suspense and horror and simply charged narratives full of emotion usually in full disarray in Woolrich's fiction, in incompletely controlled cloaking frequently in Jackson's. Even the work they are less well-remembered for, "Jazz Age" stories in The Smart Set for Woolrich and book-length collections of humorous accounts of family life for Jackson, can be seen to have some similar spirit...and similar undertones. 

So, a heads-up for the forthcoming Jakubowski anthology (I suspect [incorrectly...see comments] there are advance readers copies about) and a brief review of some of the stories in the Datlow, a book I've had on hand for on a busy few weeks.

M. Rickert's "Funeral Birds" leads off the fiction, and certainly seeks to fulfill what Datlow describes as called for in her introduction, stories which are not pastiches of Jackson but which incorporate her interest in how the mundane details of daily life and behavior can both mask and drive madness and despair. A thoroughly unlikable home health aide attends the funeral of her recent client, and an after-funeral get-together at her former charge's daughter's house. She finds that perhaps her relation with the departed isn't finished. Rickert does revel in the physical details of the aide's life and eccentric passage through it.

Elizabeth Hand's "For Sale by Owner" digs even more deeply into  Jacksonian exploration of the notion of the invasion of the houses of others, and how the domiciles can return the "favor". Elegant prose, including some that verges on "real-estate porn", as well as an engaging exploration of the friendship of the middle-aged women protagonists, who find over the course of the story a shared attraction to wandering into and through the New England summer houses belonging to others...and what might make that more dangerous than a lark, quite aside from random police checks and the like. How many of us have first read Jackson via "The Summer People", "The Lovely House" or The Haunting of Hill House? Probably relatively few compared to those who first encountered "The Lottery", but I was finding her work in explicitly supernatural horror anthologies first, and "The Lottery" came a year or so later, not too long before such lighter stories as "One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts" in my first Best from [the Magazine of] Fantasy and Science Fiction volume. 

Carmen Maria Machado's "A Hundred Miles and a Mile" is an allusive story about the passing on of what might be secret wisdom, and certainly is at least we can be the bearers of such without fully knowing it, and how carrying it with us doesn't necessarily make our lives easier. 

Joyce Carol Oates's "Take Me, I am Free" is also allusive, but in a more emotionally brutal manner, unrelenting as it limns a certain kind of too-common child abuse as well as drawing in some implications of something beyond that quotidian evil. I suspect Andrew Vachss would've admired if not also loved this one, and he would be correct.

The design of the book as a whole is handsome, and the custom endpapers, fetishizing the style of eyeglass frames Jackson wore in her photographs even more than the jacket/cover art does (as do the story headers), are an amusing touch. Sadly, the copy I first received from a certain Bad Place to Work was rather less-well-"built", as was the replacement I ordered--both had warped boards, and not the firmest binding I've found on a hardcover; I hope a certain source got a bad batch or treated it roughly, rather than all the first printing sharing the same flaws. (In comments below, Ellen Datlow notes she hasn't heard this plaint till now, which I take to be a good sign...and an argument for picking up a copy through an independent or other brick and mortar store, if practical and safe. I do prefer seeing the condition of my copies before I buy them.)

Definitely a book worth having. 

More to come...

For more of today's Short Story Wednesday reviews,