Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: Three Items (Arguably) in Three Books and a Magazine: Ethel Rosenberg's "So Take Your Diamonds With You", George Woodcock's "Raven, the Prometheus of the Indians" and A CENTURY OF HORROR (1970-1979) edited by Dennis Etchison and M. H. Greenberg

As almost always, but with more purpose than usual, I am sifting through the chaotic collection of reading material in the house, of late to help create a new office for my cohabitant's private practice. So, some old (inanimate, literary) friends are uncovered, and I am reminded of them, or look at them again. And at other items they remind me of.

First up today is not exactly a short story, but it can be read as one, as it's a gracefully-lifted excerpt from "a sort of novel" as the author or her publisher tagged it, on the cover at left, below. And has any writer used her legal name at a worse time than Ethel Rosenberg, with her first novel Go Fight City Hall (1949) and a sequel of sorts, carrying over a major character from the first book, Julius Pasternak, and his family and social circles, Uncle Julius and the Angel with Heartburn (1951).

What it is, is rather expertly-detailed mild kvetching and noodging between the Pasternaks, their sister/in-law and the adult kids involved as the elders attempt to leave for a wedding in Philadelphia from their 
apartment building in Brooklyn, only to find a number of small distractions and annoyances in the way of getting to the train station on time, not least that the landlord, that goniff, has sent in a painter to finally give the apartment a new coat, and a sensitive painter who complains of distraction no less, and the Pasternaks' niece has actually engaged a taxi for them, with the meter running and all, yet the cabbie comes up and asks for a glass of water, while offering advice, as he's a psychologist, as well. '"You know what that means, don't you?" "Yes," Julius says patiently. "It means you took a course once."' As one might expect, this is rather familiar ground all these decades later, from no end of dramatic as well as literary variations since, but amiable and well-recomplicated and still worth the look. Rosenberg signed most of her subsequent work, apparently all aimed at younger readers, Eth Clifford (the latter a middle or maiden name). That was the byline on her 1995 MWA Edgar Award shortlister, for "juvenile novel", Harvey's Mystifying Raccoon Mix Up. Best Humor Annual editors Louis Untermeyer and Ralph Shikes had their own fun in the McCarthyite tenor of the early '50s, as well.

A different sort of Raven than MWA's or Poe's comes into play with Canadian poet and anarchist scholar George Woodcock's essay/ recounting of how the Raven trickster/creator myths are embedded in the religious traditions northwestern North American nations,  in the fifth, June 1988 issue of The Raven (a link to where the issue can be read), a quarterly journal that was for some years the stablemate of the venerable UK-based anarchist newspaper Freedom.  "Raven, the Prometheus of the Indians" notes in summation "How much of all this makes Raven an appropriate mascot for an anarchist magazine? He is always, in his own way, Lucifer, concerned with bringing the light and dispelling the darkness. Whatever his motives, he is never seen on the side of the powers that be, whatever they are, but carries on a perpetual trickster's war against their pretensions." As one who loved the origin myths that Woodcock deals with in the essay when reading and hearing them in my youth, his take is elegant and a bit nostalgic.

Nostalgia of various sorts brought me, while pining a bit for my copy of Ramsey Campbell's first anthology Superhorror, and its perhaps most brilliant story and probably the most criminally overlooked in the career of its author, R. A. Lafferty, "Fog in My Throat" (also a consideration of the place of religion in our lives...and deaths)--only one relatively rare, limited-edition collection among Lafferty's includes it, and no other reprints have occurred so far I'm aware of...I managed to land on Dennis Etchison and Martin Harry Greenberg's A Century of Horror: 1970-1979, clearly meant to be the first volume of a ten-volume series, but, as with a lot of the later Greenberg projects, plagued with certain obstacles, and the only volume that appeared. Terrible cover illustration, as well. Here's the contents as detailed by ISFDB, which (like myself) tends to segregate more or less "realistic" suspense fiction from horror fiction, but inconsistently, and does so with the clumsy tag "non-genre":
--where, for example, Bradbury's "Gotcha!" (probably his best late-published story though apparently one he'd written and put aside some years before) is no more horror per se than is the Matheson or the Lumley--the Lumley being one of his best stories, far from the clumsy melding of boy's adventure and Cthulhu mythos fiction that afflicts much of his other work.  But, then, Greenberg was a good (if not always attentive) editor, and Etchison was an even better one...though "Sticks" is perhaps more Karl Edward Wagner's most popular horror novelet than his best one (some of his "Kane"-series short fiction, straddling sword and sorcery and horror better than anyone else who comes to mind except for Fritz Leiber, and more consistently, probably would've been my choice here), and the Card story is a clumsy diatribe in the form of a not particularly good story on any level, though it does succeed in being as disgusting as Card wants it to be. Most of the rest of the choices are at least reasonably arguable, if not always the best of the decade as promised. Certainly the Lafferty story cited above, from the same source anthology of originals as the Lumley, should be present...

For more of today's SSW reviews, please see Patti Abbott's blog (and Pennsylvanians and others in the Philadelphia area can see Megan Abbott tonight at 7p at the Phoenixville bookstore Reads and Company).

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: VAMPIRES, ZOMBIES, WEREWOLVES AND GHOSTS: 25 CLASSIC STORIES OF THE SUPERNATURAL edited by Barbara H. Solomon and Eileen Panetta (Signet Classics 2011)

Or, How Things Can Go Very Wrong for a reasonably good anthology. Consider the timing, for a book edited by two feminist literature professors, who dedicate this book to their daughters, with the contents of their hefty new anthology, a relative rarity in the Signet Classics line (which has always run to new introductions to novels and short story collections of some venerability) arranged in alphabetical order by last name of writer:

It might well be the case that leading off with a Woody Allen story in the months before the big exposure of his (alleged, sadly probable) worst bad behavior began wasn't the only factor that led to this fat anthology, listing at $7.95 US ($8.99 Canadian) from a usually relatively low-priced line of paperbacks (one of its several charms), to see only one printing, so far, a dozen years out. But it probably didn't help. Which is a bit of pity, since it's an interesting selection of chestnuts and some relatively recent materials, with an enthusiastic introduction and headnotes, that its editors clearly hoped would become a (relatively) low-priced textbook in classrooms, mostly for college undergrads but also probably high schools as well. For various reasons, of course, H. P. Lovecraft, Oscar Wilde, Rudyard Kipling and in some somewhat less voluble corners Anne Rice and Ann Sexton would all be problematic entries in cirricula in even that year and no less now as we start seeing all kinds of resentment of extraliterary (leaving aside some real questions of literary) deviance from the Good and True by these folks or whichever subset one chooses to dislike thus. I'm not the biggest fan of the works of Lovecraft, at least many of his I've read, nor Rice, Strieber, and a few others, and find most of Allen's prose (as with his scripts) pretty shallow, but this remains on balance a good anthology, if somewhat eccentric in its selections...and somewhat interesting in what the purview of the anthology as stated leaves out in horror fiction (other shape-shifters, obviously, but also any number of stories where the fantasticated danger to the characters is something less tangible or identifiable, more a question of realities as a whole shifting, etc.).

And, in fact, let's look at the Allen sketch in prose...the editors date it from 1968, without giving the provenance of that date (maybe Getting Even, the book that gave this its apparent first publication in 1971, includes Allen's tags as when each piece was written), and while it's a competent, not un-witty nor not un-clever but slight comedy item in prose, apparently The New Yorker didn't choose to buy this one, unlike most of the contents of the 1971 book, and they aren't Too wrong. (Of course, editor William Shawn might've, in his self-adoring way, have considered the concept of Dracula too crass.) Something like his later short story "The Kugelmass Episode" might be better for the purposes, except that it has none of the four cited monsters...

For more of today's choices, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: "The Altruist" by Charles Portis, TRUMPET #1, February 1965, edited by Tom Reamy; Portis celebration online tonight

Late addition: Jonathan Lethem on the five novels of Portis, from The New York Review of Books, 20 June 2024 (courtesy Gordon Van Gelder)

Library of America, to hype their new omnibus of Portis novels, a few short stories and other writing, are offering an online event live today, 17 May 2023, at 6-7pm ET, and now archived in video and audio-only versions here, to which they've invited Roy Blount, Jr., Roz Chast, Ian Frazier, Mary Roach, Paul Theroux, Ed Park, Calvin Trillin, "and other special guests" (including recurring Portis anthology editor Jay Jennings) much anyone gets to say in an hour is anyone's guess, but that's a good bunch to hear from. Registration here. They'll post it online at their site after the recording, barring the flood...their self-congratulatory title for the event is "‘The Best American Writer You’ve Never Heard Of’: A Tribute to Charles Portis", which is an odd claim, given True Grit alone and its lasting impressions on the culture. "The Altruist" is the earliest piece of fiction per se cited in the FictionMags Index that Portis saw published, and as far as I can tell it hasn't ever been reprinted.

The illustration, by Hollis Williford, very much in the style of those in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine at that time.

Trumpet's first issue can be read at the highlighted link.

Trumpet was a relatively elaborate fanzine (a relatively low-budget magazine published for distribution mostly to fellow fantastic-fiction fans), begun in 1965 by editor and publisher Tom Reamy, who had published an earlier fanzine and decided to try something a bit more adventurous with this title, which he would publish sporadically for a decade (and win two Hugo Awards for Best Fanzine with, in 1967 and '69) and then move on to a more elaborate magazine with some, if limited, newsstand circulation, Nickelodeon, which had a much shorter run due to Reamy's early death, from a heart attack in 1977. Reamy had by the mid '70s begun to write increasingly warmly-received fiction, most of it fantasy, and won the John W. Campbell Award for best new writer in 1976. Reamy was one of the earlier "openly" gay fantastica writers in the fantasy/sf community, and his continuing interest in film had led to some work in that industry. 

"The Altruist" is set in the last days of the Korean War, and is an interesting and (truly!) gritty, if anecdotal, account of the less than rewarding experiences of some frontline troops, notably Corporal Hesse, already a veteran of too much combat, and the more problematic Private Rhylick, who alternately inspires sympathy and irritation in Hesse; the rest of his unit also have mixed reviews of his service so far. The story as a story has a rather And Then This Happened feel to it, as if Portis wasn't quite sure how best to approach the narrative, and if to write it more like a combat bulletin (Portis was a professional reporter before he began a primarily fiction-writing career) or a more-traditional short story; I wonder if it had been a been a trunk story for a while before Portis had offered it to Reamy, or if Portis had been involved in any way with speculative-fiction fandom before this story's publication (there's no information on how Portis and Reamy knew of each other in the issue, unless my quick skim beyond reading the story missed it). So, a curio, and it would be interesting to know more about how the story arrived at its publication site and how long before publication it had been written. Also, it seems like that at least one or two typos might've been introduced in the text during layout (I believe most of the text of the magazine was shot from typewritten pages, rather than typeset). 

Interesting that at least two notable and innovative US writers who came to fiction-writing after journalism careers (among other work), not primarily associated with fantasy or sf per se, got their (possibly) first fiction published in fantastica "markets" (if Trumpet paid at all at the time, which is unlikely) in the '60s: Portis and David Ely, best remembered these days for his heavily metaphorical sf novel Seconds (and the film made from it) but also notably active in crime fiction and other work, whose first published fiction seems to have been in Cele Goldsmith's fantasy and sf magazines at Ziff-Davis Publications, Fantastic and Amazing Stories: Fact and Science Fiction, in 1961.

So, please consider checking in on the hour (or slightly more) celebrating Portis, and please do see the other Short Story Wednesday entries at Patti Abbott's blog.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

SSW: EPOCH, Fall 1955 ed. Ronald Sukenick among many; ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE ed. Frederic Dannay and THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION ed. "Anthony Boucher", September 1955 issues

I mentioned in an FFB post a few weeks [or a decade+] back*** that I'd recently purchased a short stack of Epoch, the Cornell-based literary magazine that in its first, Fall 1947 issue featured a short story by young lion Ray Bradbury and poems by old lion e. e. cummings and early-middle-years lion John Ciardi, and while I didn't have that issue nor the one with Joyce Carol Oates's, well, epochal "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?", I did have the Fall 1955 (8th anniversary) issue (which can be read at the link) with two poems by the late Joanna Russ, who would've been 18 at time of publication and probably newly matriculated. The issue also featured a short story by R. V. Cassill and a poem by Lysander Kemp, and these along with the Russ poems might've been just as much at home on the contents page of EQMM's sister magazine The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, though the Philip Roth short story in the same issue (which Barry Malzberg advises me was his first to be published) might push the TOC in a more Partisan Review direction; scientist-poet Theodore Melnechuk pushes it back a little.

Meanwhile, in this, the 70th anniversary year of publication for Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, it only seemed fitting to take up the 14th anniversary issue, September 1955, as close as they could get to accuracy given that the first issue was dated Fall 1941. (The editorial half of "Ellery Queen," Frederic Dannay, or perhaps someone else high up on staff, decided to fudge it inside the magazine, at least, and call this issue, erroneously, the 15th anniversary.)

So, these two would've been on better newsstands at about the same time, with EQMM running 35c a copy and Epoch 75c.

As Douglas Greene indexed the issue for the FictionMags Index:

Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine (Including Black Mask Magazine) [v 26 #3, No. 142, September 1955] ed. Ellery Queen (Mercury Publications, 35¢, 144pp, digest s/b, cover by George Salter) Managing editor Robert P. Mills. "15th Anniversary issue." [sic]

3 · For Men Only [Insp. Kyle] · Roy Vickers · nv; continued on p. 125.
22 · Murder at the Poe Shrine · Nedra Tyre · ss
35 · The Most Exciting Show in Town · Cornell Woolrich · nv Detective Fiction Weekly May 16 1936, as “Double Feature”; In EQMM’s Black Mask Magazine section.
50 · Turtle Race · Paul W. Fairman · ss; In EQMM’s Black Mask Magazine section.
60 · Star Witness · Allan Vaughan Elston · ss Dime Detective Magazine Aug 1 1934; The American Magazine, May 1952, as “Caballero Alegre”.
70 · The Devil and Mr. Wooller · R. J. Tilley · ss; Department of “First Stories”.
77 · Double Your Money [Ellery Queen] · Ellery Queen · ss This Week Sep 30 1951, as “The Vanishing Wizard”; collected in Queen’s Q.B.I.: Queen’s Bureau of Investigation (Little, Brown, 1954).
83 · What Did Poor Brown Do · Mark Twain · ex (r); from chapter II of Following the Equator.
90 · A Very Odd Case Indeed [John Appleby] · Michael Innes · vi (r); Probably from The Evening Standard.
93 · The Man Who Made People Mad · Mark Van Doren · ss
105 · Killers Three: (3) First Time Machine · Fredric Brown · vi; The title in the TOC is “The First Time Machine”.
106 · EQMM’s Detective Directory · Robert P. Mills · br
108 · Dead Pigeon · Jules Archer · vi Esquire Dec 1951
111 · The Splinter · Mary Roberts Rinehart · ss

A fairly typical mix of reprints and new fiction for EQMM in those years, with its "Black Mask" section (a feature recently revived after some decades' absence in the magazine) populated by a Woolrich reprint and a Paul Fairman original, with accompanying note that fudges Fairman's career history a bit as well, soft-pedaling his work with Howard Browne at the Ziff-Davis pulp and digest magazines and omitting his very short tenure as the founding editor of If, the sf magazine Fairman did his best to make a weak echo of Browne's Amazing...which by 1955, Fairman would be editing, along with its companion Fantastic, as almost inarguably the worst editor of either. In the late 1950s, Fairman would serve for some years as Managing Editor of EQMM, as well.

Fredric Brown's vignette, the third in a sequence that year, "Killers 3," "The First Time Machine," is indicative of Dannay's fondness for the fantasticated crime story, mixed in with the contemporary and historical items; he would publish horror fiction from time to time, as well. The Tyre and the Twain are charming.

The Epoch issue runs thus:

Epoch [v. VII, #1, Fall 1955] edited by Baxter Hathaway, Morris Bishop, Carl Hartman, Robert O. Brown, Hazard Adams, Herbert Goldstone, and Bruce R. Park. "Non-Resident": John A. Sessions and Harvey Shapiro; Assistant Editors: Steven Katz, Barbara D. Long, Ronald Sukenick and Nina Zippin. (Epoch Associates, publishers; quarterly; $3/year; approx. 8.5 x 5.5"; 64pp plus covers).

3· When Old Age Shall This Generation Waste · R.V. Cassill· ss
20· Savors · T. Melnechuk · pm
21· False Autumn · Rosanne Smith-Robinson · ss
33· Tenebrae: Seven Variations · Frederick Eckman · pm
35· Two Poems · Joanna Russ · pm
· Botanical Gardens · pm
· A La Mode · pm
36· Where the Tiger Walks · Chris Bjerknes · pm
37· The Contest for Aaron Gold · Philip Roth · ss
51· Orpheus Again · Lysander Kemp · pm
53· Sing, and Singing Praise · Peter Cohen · pm
54· Two Poems · Richard Hugo · pm
· Anti-Social Easter · pm
· The Gull Hardly Explained · pm
55· War in the Pacific · Bruce Cutler · pm
60· Notes, Reviews, Speculations · Anon. · ed

The Cassill is a fine representation of the more cosmopolitan society of the mid-'50s, and how said folks had to tread carefully among the louts so easily stirred up all around them (among other points about the Literary Scene in NYC at that time); the Russ poems are very promising, the Melnechuck poem very clever in its cummings-esque usage of typography for multiple layers of meaning. The Roth story is decent early work, rather more sentimental than he was later likely to indulge in. Can be read here.

Meanwhile, the September issue of F&SF, arguably its sixth anniversary issue, featured (as per ISFDb)--edited by Anthony Boucher; cover by Chesley Bonestell (Vol 9, No 3, Whole No 52 ". . . Nearly in the Usual Manner" is an anecdote about Robert Fulton from "Temple of Reason"; it was contributed by Rita Gottesman):

3 • The Man Who Cried "Sheep!" • novelette by J. T. McIntosh
32 • ". . . Nearly in the Usual Manner" • (1801) • (filler) essay by uncredited (see above)
33 • The Fourth Man • (1933) • short story by Agatha Christie
47 • The Science Screen • reviews by Charles Beaumont
52 • Personal Monster • short story by Margaret St. Clair [as by Idris Seabright]
63 • Too Many Bears • (1949) • short story by Eric St. Clair
68 • Old Story • short story by Ward Moore
83 • The Music on the Hill • (1911) • short story by Saki
88 • Recommended Reading • reviews by Anthony Boucher
93 • Rudolph • (1954) • short story by Thyra Samter Winslow
99 • Pottage • [The People] • novelette by Zenna Henderson
127 • Too Far • vignette by Fredric Brown

--the Saki being another of his most telling horror stories, the Henderson a key story in her "the People" series, the St. Clairs fine examples of what they could do, and the Brown one of the best recomplicated punning vignettes I can recall reading.

So, that would've been a good month...

***I'd mentioned this in the FFB post noting Carol Emshwiller's retrospective collection, and yesterday this news about [
the late] Emshwiller, from her son, Stony, on FaceBook:

My 90-year-old mom, Carol Emshwiller, had a "cardiac event" (which apparently is, to a "heart attack," what "breaking wind" is to "farting"). She's doing okay, thankfully. Since she's a life-long atheist (second generation), asking for your prayers would no doubt piss her off royally. So instead I'll ask you to track down one of her stories or books on-line (or even in a bookstore) and give a few lines (or more) a read. She's awesome.

Get well soon, Mom!

For more of this week's shor
t fiction reviews, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: Wilma Shore: WW2 stories in McCALL'S: "You Can't Tell Your Mother", "A Woman in Love", "Something of Her Own"

Wilma Shore as a writer has been of continuing interest to me, and the recent citations in the FictionMags Index which included links to the full texts of McCall's magazine, in the Internet Archive, made for a rather good couple of hours' reading. She didn't collect any of these three stories in her one book of fiction, Women Should Be Allowed, but they are nearly as good as those that are, particularly the last of them. I have to wonder if she sent her stories to the Ladies' Home Journal first, on her market list of women's magazines, and if the possible title change of her first story for McCall's (as it would make a bit more sense if titled "You Can't Tell My Mother") or some more conservative tilt in the magazine made it less-favored by Shore for her best work in this wise.

"You Can't Tell Your Mother" is the first and slightest of these three, dating from the May 1942 issue of McCall's, just far enough into US direct combat in the war for a bulletin elsewhere in the issue about how rayon stockings are Almost as good as nylon or silk, but special care must be taken with them. It's a mostly charming, if sad, story about a young girl (a bright 8yo), who confesses to one of her mother's coworkers her own terror of Uboats/submarines generally, as well as other war-driven fear, and how she doesn't dare share these with her mother, despite the protagonist encouraging her to do so, for fear of burdening her mother unduly...which gets the childless protagonist thinking about how very terribly complex as well as terrifying the current crises can only seem to all of us.  I suppose, if the title is Shore's, it was meant to suggest that the girl would advise us thus, but I suspect Shore might've found a more deft way of doing so. 

"A Woman in Love" (from the April 1943 issue) is a much longer and more complex story, focused on the relationship between a married couple of their early middle years, and how they are drawn into direct participation in the war effort, and the stresses this (and external stresses from coping with the demands of wartime activity more generally) places on their relations...told from the wife's point of view, the story is somewhat less thoroughly supportive of her somewhat cooling response to how her husband begins to disappoint her, for the first time in their marriage, in his less than self-sacrificing commitment...without damning her or him from Shore's perspective. But I think Shore wanted us to be a bit disappointed in her for the nature of her disappointment in him. 

While the best of the three is her last in McCall's (ever, as far as the FictionMags Index, or FMI, is aware), from the March 1944 issue, "Something of Her Own", a rather fully-realized account of the somewhat confusing cautious slide into a romantic relationship between two somewhat unconventional young professionals, she working as a stenographer, he as a slightly dissatisfied but obligated junior corporate lawyer, and both always not quite sure of what they genuinely want from life, and never fully at ease with the choices they make or have thrust upon them. It rather expertly deals directly with the complex of emotions wartime separation inflicts on couples, along with the other matters of family, worklife and other pressures that most of us have faced to one degree or another in this country (and most if not all others, in somewhat differing ways) over the last century. 

These are sensitively-written stories, with relatively little if any Forced Uplift (much less Happily Ever After/For Now strictures that are placed on most romance fiction over the decades), and interesting to see in the context of even the sober times they were published in, in a magazine that wasn't (perhaps correctly, but not completely correctly) seen as fully advancing the cause of women as whole persons...but particularly in those days, when they were interested in Wilma Shore contributions, along with those from a relatively few people whose names might strike similar faint bells (such as Rachel Field or Faith Baldwin), doing what they and the magazine staffs (and it's notable how many of the executive editors were men in this decade, and for the next couple of decades at least) felt they could to provide various sorts of service to their readers. (Shore on the new sobriety of the women's magazines and other "slicks" as World War 2 ground on.) 

From the FMI:

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