Saturday, September 24, 2016

1st draft, first passages: Camilla Ann Mason, nee Rocchi...Micci...Mom 1937-2016

Mostly getting it down here, so that I can cut and know where to fill in what missing data I can gather. Probably won't be electrifying and, at first at least, too TM-centric, though I'll try to avoid that last as much as possible. 

My mother, Camilla Ann Mason, was born 9 February 1937,  the second to last child of Dora Mae Rocchi, nee Ratliff, and Andy Erigo Rocchi. Her siblings, I believe in correct chronological order of arrival, were Mary (who married and took the name Coldiron) aka Sis, Leoma aka Nay (first Hall, and after her first husband Kelly died, whom I knew well when I was a young child, she eventually married Charlie) Broker, Lucille (Lambert), James "Jock" Rocchi (whose wife, Connie, was probably the closest to us, Micci's kids, of the in-laws/aunts and uncles after the Alaska years--my first almost five, and before my brother was born), Lucille (Lambert), Louis Rocchi, Sylvia Nierman, Ruby A. Rocchi (about here, who died in infancy when left in the insufficient care of some subset of her insufficiently attentive or experienced older siblings and caught something that she just couldn't fight off), Andy (who picked up the unenviable family nickname Piddle--don't know if anyone ever wised off about Piddle and Jock), then Micci, then Sarah (Cochenour at time of death)...the baby of the family, she passed a couple of years before Mom, in part due to one of the traits we tend to share, diabetes (I'm the lucky one that way in our nuclear unit).

Aunt Ruby wasn't the only Rocchi to come to an untimely end. Andy Erigo, how he came by "Andy" I don't know yet, came into the U.S. from Milan via San Francisco, rather than Ellis Island, at the turn of the last century...somehow, he made his way to the coal mines of West Virginia, where he met the young Dora Mae, who had been on her own by the age of 13...of Cherokee and some Irish ancestry, a long line in the mountains and hills, after the early waves of immigration and those who evaded the forced marches of the Trail of Tears. Erigo, for whom my brother Eric is named in part, was apparently liked well enough by his bosses to get some sort of supervisory role, and reportedly that didn't sit well with a colleague, who rigged a cave-in to create a vacancy. Which it did, when my mother was about six. She barely remembered her father; she remembered how much he reviled Mussolini. Her mother never remarried, supplemented her widow's pension with I'm not sure what kind of work, apparently eventually had a busy social life. Saturday night, and then Sunday morning at the Church of God Dora Mae and Erigo had joined together (he couldn't find a Catholic church at that time if he'd wanted to, I gather, around Welch). The kids all got a start there, but Mom was pretty turned off by it at a young age...perhaps disapproval of a merry-enough widowed mother, perhaps other sorts of hypocrisy. Camilla was a Christian all her life, and never a member of a church again. 

Andy's son Andy became a police officer, which was one way not to go down into the mines. But he did go into the wrong bar one night after his shift, and someone came up behind him, as the story goes, and brained him. Sometime in the mid '60s...if I ever met him, I was an infant.  

But between the death of her father and moving out on her own at the turn of the '60s, Micci had a fairly good time of it...popular and pretty, gregarious throughout her life, she enjoyed her high school years, she told me, and had boyfriends who, for example, let her do a little spinning and patter on their local radio shows. After high school, she took secretarial courses, got an Associates degree at a community college, and soon moved with her lifelong friend Connie to Alexandria, Virginia, where she initially worked for an optometrist, but soon took her first Civil Service job, with the National Archives. She met a man, who happened to be an airplane pilot (if I remember correctly), things got pretty serious, they got engaged...and he took a job based in Fairbanks, Alaska, of all places. 

Which didn't work out too badly for Mom, as her sister Leoma was already living in Fairbanks, with Kelly and their kids, and Micci was able to land a job as a secretary with the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration, in Fairbanks. Done deal. Till she arrived, to find that her fiance had been playing around during the interim between his arrival in Alaska, and hers...and she wouldn't tolerate that. But she was there, initially living with Leoma and Kelly, and over the next few months, a young technician, mostly working on radar stations and other air traffic electronics around the state for the Administration, and she began to hit it off. I suspect his hobbies such as auto racing and mountain climbing didn't put her off...she eventually was willing to play along with the auto racing, at least (in the cross country races, she served as navigator). She married her new beau, Robert Mason, Bob to most people, Rob to her, on 25 October 1963. They bought a house, settled in, joined a bowling league, and decided to become parents. (Big mistake, as you can guess.) Sometime in the typically dark not quite polar winter of 1963, not long after 23 November, they successfully conceived your undersigned. As if to warn them of the error, on 27 March  1964, the worst recorded earthquake in North America (second strongest recorded so far worldwide) beat the hell out of Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska, and the towns on its southern coast (and attendant tsunamis took casualties as far away as California), but five hundred miles inland, near the center of the state, Fairbanks wasn't too badly hurt. Sadly, not all my parents' friends were so fortunate. I arrived independently and volubly on the scene in August, no doubt anticlimactically. 

Nasty neighbors led to relocation from one Fairbanks house to another, and in 1965 Kelly borrowed my father's brand new Jaguar to take a spin, and didn't realize the semi he was trying to pass on the left was just about to make the kind of wide left turn they do on a narrow highway; the car was totaled and Kelly laid up for a while. But the worst tragedy they had to muscle through was probably the 1967 Chena River flood, which eventually put about 3-4 feet of water into our house and many of the houses around the city for several days. They had a lot of interactions with insurance agencies in those years, and faced a mountain of debt...my mother went back to work for the FAA by the time I was about two, with my cousins as primary sitters for me when available, and the next door neighbors the Mendenhalls, particularly Mrs. Lois and their daughter Theresa. Aside from the Mendenhalls, their best friends in Alaska were a couple also associated with the FAA, Rae and Andy Billick. What I remember best about Alaska are mostly very good things: my parents teaching me to read with Dr. Seuss, Little Golden Books and the like; hanging out with a Native nations girl, also 4, and her 3yo brother, whose backyard adjoined our next-door neighbors' (I remember finding their mother very pretty as well as very kind to me), and with one or two others on our street; I remember my rocking-horse toy and backyard swing set.

By 1969, my parents were ready to leave Alaska, mostly with the prospect of a promotion for my father; he'd be working in Airway Facilities in the New England sector of the FAA, based in Boston at Logan Airport, and my mother would take another FAA secretarial position there; we drove from Fairbanks to Oklahoma City in the summer of '69, in a pickup truck with a camper conversion; only two could sit in the cab at a time, so much of the trip I was up in my bunk above the cab (not recommended for 4yos  in most auto safety manuals these days, I'm sure, reading or staring out the front window next to the bunk. Or I'd sit up front with one or another of my parents, while the other rode in the camper space, sitting at the kitchenette or getting a nap. We spent a couple of months in OKC so that my father could be trained in Lawton, at an FAA academy there, and then onto our new house in West Peabody, Massachusetts. The disruption of their lives by leaving their friends and family in Alaska didn't do them any favors, I think, and the Boston area isn't the warmest welcome for newcomers at the best of times; they were still paying down debt and had some difficulty securing day care/after school day care for me, as I  continued the Kindergarten that had begun in Oklahoma, and then went onto elementary school in 1970. My parents were making do, and a little better than that, when my mother found herself, slightly surprisingly given some precautions they'd taken, pregnant again in the spring of 1970; she worked up till it became problematic, and on 25 January 1971, a second son, James Eric Mason, arrived. I was fascinated. By the time I was seven, I was changing the occasional (very occasional) diaper, with these new paper/plastic disposables now on the market. I had had several infant health scares over the first couple of years (why my teeth are beige, as I was one of the lucky mid-'60s tetracycline babies--never have tried to get them capped, it never seemed the most urgent matter to attend to); Eric, despite being misdiagnosed as allergic to milk products (and therefore one of the early enjoyers of soy baby formula, not cheap atop other expenses), was otherwise healthy; apparently I had been a rather quiet baby; Eric not so much. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

FFB: SELECTED STORIES by Fritz Leiber (Night Shade Books 2010); SELECTED STORIES by Theodore Sturgeon (Vintage/Random House 2000); VIRTUAL UNREALITIES: THE SHORT FICTION OF ALFRED BESTER (Vintage/Random House 1997)


The publishing of some of the most innovative and influential writers in fantastic fiction, when they are not also among the most consistently best-selling, is too often a catch as catch can matter, much as it is with similar work in other fields...there's a somewhat less profound resistance to commercial publication of short fiction collections in fantasy, science fiction, horror and their related fields than there is in much of the rest of the literature, but even there, consistent programs are rare...hence the value of the best such project in the field so far, Paul Williams and company's The Complete Short Stories of Theodore Sturgeon. But even given any of the individual volumes of that project, or its similar cousins, is a very good reading experience indeed, the sets taken as a whole are not the most wieldy items in any library, and might not be the best way to introduce new readers to the writers in question. And, sadly, some writers, such as Fritz Leiber, have never had a systematic presentation of the range of  their work, even when important subsets of that work have been presented rather well (in his case, his extremely influential sword & sorcery series of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, as well as a set of non-overlapping career retrospectives in the 1970s).  There's usually a place in the canons for something like the old Viking Press series of Portable selections of writers' works, only perhaps without the novels or excerpts that series usually featured along with the shorter fiction, poetry and nonfiction. This week, three such collections, all excellent, imperfect representations of or introductions to their authors, responsibly (if in one case oddly anonymously) edited and reasonably well-presented by their publishers, the notable small press Night Shade for the Leiber, the "prestige" paperback line Vintage,  by design devoted to canonical work, for the two other collections.

And while there are other writers, women as well as men, who are comparable in importance to the three men whose books make a convenient trio for this installment, these three have more than a little in common...each being one of the major shapers of fantastic fiction as it was published in the magazines devoted to that fiction (let's call it in-group fantastic fiction, a tradition which has had extreme influence on and been influenced by even such writers who never felt completely a part of it as Kurt Vonnegut, J. R. R. Tolkien, Madeleine L'Engle and Jack Finney, moreso than those such as George Orwell and Philip Wylie who did some similar work but mostly didn't interact with the specialists in the fantastic to the same degree). Each of our selected trio this week were comfortable in fantasy, horror and sf and beyond those fields (even if to varying degrees influential in each), and each a notably good constructor of prose, far more easily readable by the usual standards of literature than many of their similarly influential peers who began publishing their work at the turn of the 1940s. This is not so true of, say, one of Leiber's mentors, H. P. Lovecraft (Leiber and Robert Bloch being the best and most important writers who corresponded directly with Lovecraft as they were finding their feet as professional writers, and both would take Lovecraft's innovations and do impressive work furthering that innovation).  All three writers also were notably engaged by subtleties of character and psychological nuance that were often less obvious in the work of some of their peers, whose strengths often lay elsewhere (these three not collectively uniquely so, but they were among the great practitioners of this aspect of the art). 

Fritz Leiber was sometimes the most subtle of the three, and the one who probably offered the most impressive conceptual advances in his work; such stories in this volume as "Smoke Ghost" and "Coming Attraction" revolutionized horror and sf, respectively, genuinely shaking up many readers and even more nudging the writers within the in-groups so affected to reconsider how they were approaching their subject matter; "Smoke Ghost," as Algis Budrys noted, by itself almost singlehandedly created what we now think of as urban fantasy in a mature form, while "Coming Attraction" not only dealt deftly and satirically with a decaying society after a not-quite apocalyptic war, but also challenged in-group folks directly in how the characters were portrayed, suggesting hidden agendas and complexity that went beyond the rather schematic standard in sf at that time...it was also a bit more challenging than the standard at that time in the noirish and hardboiled crime fiction Leiber was also fond of, and infrequently would write. "The Girl with the Hungry Eyes" was a reconsideration of vampirism in a rather more metaphorical sense than had often been put forward previously, and the feminist undertone of that story, as with Leiber's early novel Conjure Wife and such later stories as "A Deskful of Girls" was another sort of challenge (where Leiber's omission of the word "woman" in each case is telling, and I believe utterly intended by him). Such stories as "A Pail of Air" demonstrate Leiber's ability to bring outre situations very much to life (in a way not altogether unlike, say, the "hard-science" specialist Hal Clement or the relentlessly conceptualizing Charles Harness might), while other stories in his volume touch on his fascinations and obsessions, while at times reflecting his lighter (but in no case here trivial) work, as well as the profound thread of autobiography that ran through much of his best fiction. "Space-Time for Springers" deals charmingly with cats and particularly Gummitch, but also with the insecurities of parenting an infant and the grim cost that can have even given the rewards; "Four Ghosts in Hamlet" touches on the dramatic and particularly, obviously, Shakespeare (Leiber and more thoroughly his parents were professional actors, the latter running their own Shakespearean troupe); "The Inner Circles" (which Leiber preferred to be titled "The Winter Flies") was one of three 1960s not-quite-fantasies in the form of augmented plays for voices that were acutely autobiographical, dealing with Leiber's inner turmoil and relations with his parents, his wife (and their chemical dependencies) and their son. "Midnight by the Morphy Watch" involves chess (Leiber was a US Chess Federation Grandmaster) as a starting point. Three Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories are included, in the order of their internal chronology, and each has its own freight of invention and also autobiographical resonance; the first in the sequence here, "Ill Met in Lankhmar," is one of the most devastating stories Leiber wrote, no less so when one realizes it was one of the stories he wrote in the aftermath of his wife's death and as he was recovering, and to help him do so, from the alcoholic tailspin that event put him into. "Gonna Roll the Bones" (again, intensely autobiographical, though less nakedly), "Belsen Express" and "Horrible Imaginings" were all further contributions to horror literature; "Catch That Zeppelin!" delightful alternative history fiction (or "counterfactual" if you like), "America the Beautiful" a solid example of his satire. 
Theodore Sturgeon was perhaps even more than the other two writers obsessed with how characters could be authentically portrayed in the situations he devised, some remarkably clever and often even more challenging to conventional values than Leiber's; where Leiber's prose could be grandly poetic, Sturgeon's tended to be more quietly so, more transparent but also capable of subtlety that could catch the reader off-guard; Ray Bradbury was famously a student of Sturgeon, particularly in his earliest and often best-loved work, and Stephen King of both men, but neither the slightly uncontrolled Bradbury nor the often prolix King have the mastery of prose technique the best mature work of Sturgeon demonstrates. Likewise, Kurt Vonnegut was always a somewhat confounded admirer of Sturgeon and his work, and Vonnegut's recurring character "Kilgore Trout" was a take on Sturgeon's talent and his often desperate financial state (and Vonnegut's own artistic insecurity about doing work not altogether unlike Sturgeon's). 

I believe a collection of Sturgeon's horror fiction, and only of his horror fiction, would still be a useful thing to have, but this selection comes closer to this than almost any other Sturgeon book (his two earliest collections rival it), with such devastating stories as "It", "A Way of Thinking", "Bianca's Hands" and to some extent "Mr. Costello, Hero" and several others here being of that mode, where genuinely terrifying or sometimes simply beautifully strange things are happening, with details that imbue the stories with deeply felt life; the conclusions of "It" (which I first read when I was about nine years old) and "A Way of Thinking" (a decade later) might stick with me for as long as memory serves me, and "Bianca" couldn't find a magazine that would publish it in the U. S. for several years; entered eventually into a contest at the U. K. magazine Argosy (unrelated except in eclecticism to the U. S. magazine of the same title), it won; a fine story by Graham Greene took second place.  "Costello" is, as are "Bright Segment" and "The Sex Opposite", somewhat more science-fictional than the other three, and none of those is quite what you'd call traditional horror, any more than the sf stories here are quite devoted to the usual approaches of science fiction. "Killdozer!" is a sort of sfnal horror, famously (due to a telefilm adaptation in the '70s as well as wide reprinting) about an alien intelligence which inhabits a bulldozer on an island construction site, is perhaps the closest to what might be considered a "generic" sf story, and that one not so close; likewise the nuclear war consideration "Thunder and Roses". Sturgeon is fascinated with love, famously, in many forms, but also with hatred and cold indifference (as "A Way of Thinking", "Costello" and "The Skills of Xanadu" make very clear), and, again, in often challenging ways; the metaphorical use of syzygy and synergy fascinated him, in terms of sexual and romantic interaction and in even more sweeping manners, as in the group minds and telepathic linkage touched on in some of the work here and in several of his novels; his fascination also with the artistic process comes clear in "Slow Sculpture" as well as in others, if less forthrightly. "The Man Who Lost the Sea" was one of only two stories, both from The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (the other Judith Merril's "Dead Center"), to represent "in-group" fantastic fiction in The Best American Short Stories annual in the 1950s. Sturgeon noted once that one of the reasons for his considerations of unusual passions was that "Old-shoe lovers love loving old shoes..."; writer and critic James Blish correctly noted that they also often simultaneously hate and fear doing so.  I have yet to discover who edited this volume, which obscurity seems very strange. 

Selected Stories Theodore Sturgeon (Random House/Vintage 0-375-70375-6, Oct 2000, $14.00, 439pp, tp) Collection of 13 stories.
  • 3 · Thunder and Roses · ss Astounding Nov ’47
  • 27 · The Golden Helix · na Thrilling Wonder Stories Sum ’54
  • 83 · Mr. Costello, Hero · nv Galaxy Dec ’53
  • 109 · Bianca’s Hands · ss Argosy (UK) May ’47
  • 118 · The Skills of Xanadu · nv Galaxy Jul ’56
  • 146 · Killdozer! · na Aliens 4, Avon, 1959; revised from Astounding Nov ’44.
  • 216 · Bright Segment · nv Caviar, Ballantine, 1955
  • 241 · The Sex Opposite · nv Fantastic Fll ’52
  • 269 · The (Widget), the (Wadget), and Boff · na F&SF Nov ’55 (+1)
  • 353 · It · nv Unknown Aug ’40
  • 378 · A Way of Thinking · nv Amazing Oct/Nov ’53
  • 407 · The Man Who Lost the Sea · ss F&SF Oct ’59
  • 419 · Slow Sculpture · nv Galaxy Feb ’70
Alfred Bester, for his part, was also deeply invested in exploring character in fantastic situations, but even more than Sturgeon and Leiber was also intent on finding new ways to play around with prose forms, and engage in dazzling, breathless urgency in his work. Thus  a notable example and inspiration for such writers as Harlan Ellison, Philip K. Dick, Philip Jose Farmer, Samuel Delany, and the Cyberpunks, and even the usually more deliberate Damon Knight. He wanted to shake up the readers, not only in a challenge to their perceptions and preconceptions, but also with innovative concepts and settings and, again, an often highly kinetic pace and a audio/visual flair to his prose...though in none of the short stories collected here is that as blatant as in such novels as The Demolished Man, which had in its original serialization in Galaxy magazine many typographical variations to slightly odden the experience of reading the story, as well as help get across how the characters interacted (telepathically and otherwise), though sadly none of the reprints in book form so far have replicated the magazine's variant text (the much later novel Golem 100 had more modest attempts at something similar). Such stories as "5,271, 009" are in conventional typography, but nonetheless are delightfully intense reading experiences, in the often darkly funny expressions of borderline madness, and the impressively polyglot alien antagonist/mentor the protagonist encounters in a process of what amounts to both therapy for him and rather blatant but engaging metaphor for encouraging more mature attitudes in the audience. 

Bester wanted to pack as much into any story he was telling as he possibly could, and at his best, he was as in control of that abundance as Sturgeon and Leiber were of their effects; even the comparatively simple satire "They Don't Make Life Like They Used To" manages to run up to its many false climaxes (literal and figurative) with brio, while also being a bold metaphor and challenge to in-group literature to treat sexuality more sensibly and realistically. "Fondly Fahrenheit" is one of Bester's two most famous short fictions, a virtuosic portrayal of a multiple personality/psychiatric boundary collapse  (I don't, as many do, think it his best story aside from his three 1950s novels); "Adam and No Eve" is the other most famous, and the token first-decade-of-his-career entry, an ingenious (for the time revolutionary) notional story about how to at least hope to bring life back to Earth after armageddon (as with Stephen Vincent Benet's "By the Waters of Babylon", the apocalypse isn't nuclear war but might as well be). Brilliant time-travel paradox stories are cheek by jowl here with further explorations of psychology, but frantic energy and openness to insights developing in the popular and therapeutic culture beyond the in-group community were Bester's trademark, as a man devoted to comics scripting, then radio scripting, then travel and other slick feature-writing as his primary career, who looked upon fantastic fiction as his haven, but also a pack that needed prodding into keeping up with the changes in the rest of the world around it. While he was in many ways somewhat spent by the time of his last work, his best fiction of the 1950s and early '60s in the field, and some other stories before and after, was a great spur as well as a joy to read. While the older retrospective collection Starlight might do as well for most readers as this book (including as it does an engaging memoir essay), and the newer retrospective Redemolished includes even more representative a sampling of his nonfiction than Starlight, this one still moves.

Virtual Unrealities Alfred Bester (Random House/Vintage 0-679-76783-5, Nov ’97, $14.00, 366pp, tp) Collection of 16 stories and one fragment, one story and the fragment previously unpublished. Introduction by Robert Silverberg. Packaged by Byron Preiss Visual Publications.
  • ix · Introduction · Robert Silverberg · in
  • 3 · Disappearing Act · ss Star Science Fiction Stories #2, ed. Frederik Pohl, Ballantine, 1953
  • 22 · Oddy and Id [“The Devil’s Invention”] · ss Astounding Aug ’50
  • 38 · Star Light, Star Bright · ss F&SF Jul ’53
  • 56 · 5,271,009 · nv F&SF Mar ’54
  • 91 · Fondly Fahrenheit · nv F&SF Aug ’54
  • 112 · Hobson’s Choice · ss F&SF Aug ’52
  • 127 · Of Time and Third Avenue · ss F&SF Oct ’51
  • 136 · Time Is the Traitor · nv F&SF Sep ’53
  • 159 · The Men Who Murdered Mohammed · ss F&SF Oct ’58
  • 173 · The Pi Man · ss Star Light, Star Bright, Berkley/Putnam, 1976; revised from F&SF Oct ’59.
  • 191 · They Don’t Make Life Like They Used To · nv F&SF Oct ’63
  • 225 · Will You Wait? · ss F&SF Mar ’59
  • 233 · The Flowered Thundermug · nv The Dark Side of the Earth, Signet, 1964
  • 273 · Adam and No Eve · ss Astounding Sep ’41
  • 287 · And 3½ to Go · uw *
  • 292 · Galatea Galante · nv Omni Apr ’79
  • 334 · The Devil Without Glasses · nv *

You can do worse than these volumes, with their intelligent introductions and selections I might tweak, but not change wholesale...and each is, as noted above, a good place to start with each writer. 

For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog. 
Indices from ISFDB and the Contento/Locus indices.

Friday, September 16, 2016

FFB: THE BIG BINGE aka IT'S ALL IN YOUR MIND by Robert Bloch (IMAGINATIVE TALES, July 1955; Curtis Books 1971; included in THE LOST BLOCH, V. 1: THE DEVIL WITH YOU!, Subterranean Press 1999; Pulpville Press 2006)

This short novel was the fourth and last fantasy cover story (which you can read at this link) in a row from Robert Bloch for the magazine Imaginative Tales, a sibling publication of Imagination and latterly Rogue, which began its run with two  issues featuring cover-stories from Charles Myers's imitation Thorne Smith fantasy series about the magical sprite Toffee and her human companions...IT's policy throughout its run was to feature at least one novella or short novel per issue, but this was the last issue to not have a definite slant toward science fiction rather than fantasy, and this one is by the wispiest of pretense a science-fantasy story...the magical shapeshifting and related abilities of the protagonist are driven by a machine which manifests his neuroses in a concrete manner  (if Bloch's approach hadn't been so cod-Freudian and he'd taken his concept at all seriously, he probably could've sold the story to John W.  Campbell, Jr. at Astounding Science Fiction...it isn't too far in concept from some of the "psi" stories JWC did publish...albeit it's also mildly bawdy enough to have given Campbell the vapors, as fitted the Thorne Smith tradition this story also follows, and the early policy of IT just before its skin magazine stablemate was launched).

Elmer Klopp (perhaps to help speed the plow while working through this pun-filled short novel, Bloch also indulges in comedy of humors character names...most of the other characters' names themselves relatively weak puns) is lured into an experiment that will, it is hoped, cure his neuroses, by his fellow university student Ada Noid, the charming daughter of famous Professor Perry Noid, the inventor of the psychopathfinder. The gadget, as noted above, physically manifests projections of the greatest fears and suppressed desires of those it's applied to ...beginning immediately, in his case, with the mostly unwanted ability to denude any person Elmer looks at. Inebriating himself to keep that telekinetic power in check leads to the manifestation of a pink elephant that wreaks mayhem on the university's Homecoming parade and ceremonies. (Unlike the pachyderm on Harold McCauley's magazine cover painting, reprinted as cover of the the most recent edition, the pink creature in the story is a full-sized adult elephant.) And so it goes for Klopp and his acquaintances throughout the story, as he continues to work through his id, splits into twelve more or less identical versions of himself, and reintegrates to becomes a gorilla, albeit one who can still speak intelligibly (and not quite McCauley's portrait of a chimpanzee/human hybrid), and as such runs afoul of a mixed bag of Leninist spies, and gangsters and vampires who work with them. 

It's all farcical enough to be amusing, while being most interesting as an example of Bloch applying his engagement with abnormal psychology, so famously explored in such crime fiction novels as The Kidnapper, Psycho and American Gothic, to materials which manage, like their model Thorne Smith's somewhat satirical fantasies, to walk a line between the purely humorous and carrying a certain dangerous weight to them, verging in undertone toward the horrific sort of fantasy. Horror and gentler humorous fantasy being two other notable components of Bloch's literary career, as a notable contributor to such other fantasy and horror fiction magazines as Weird Tales (where a young Bloch would contribute his earliest professional fiction, after having read for the first time the fiction of the writer soon to be his mentor, H. P. Lovecraft, and many others, in earlier issues), Fantastic Adventures (an almost direct ancestor of Imaginative Tales, where Bloch had contributed stories to an editorial staff including eventual IT editor and publisher William Hamling), and John Campbell's fantasy magazine Unknown...even as Bloch continued to contribute to such more influential contemporaries of IT as Beyond, Fantastic, and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. While minor work, this novel does reward the student of Bloch, as well as anyone who can appreciate an elaborated pun amid any number of rather simpler ones (and a few jokes which take a rather casual view of certain kinds of criminal behavior).  

That kinship to his psychological suspense fiction was clearly exploited to the hilt by the Curtis Books package, which manages to portray the story as a more titillating cousin to The Scarf or Night-World, and even manages to capture an image (presumably of Klopp as shaven gorilla) on its uncredited cover painting that looks a bit like a more bug-eyed version of Stephen King, still a young adult  and obscure writer then, not long after King's first sale to Robert Lowndes's  magazine Startling Mystery Stories, his first professional sale after placing high in Scholastic Magazines' annual competition and publication in Literary Cavalcade. Though at least one reference refers to the Curtis edition being a longer form of the story, a spot check of the texts look identical to me in all the editions I have at hand.

The later two editions put the story in context among other more obscure examples of Bloch's work (the Pulpville edition also reprints, in "Ace Double" two-front-cover fashion, the third IT cover story by Bloch, "The Miracle of Robert Weems," a shorter novella, and the short autobiographical sketch by Bloch that was published in the same issue, linked to above, as "The Big Binge"). Aside from some questionably nonfictional fillers and a few minor cartoons, the only other items in the Imaginative Tales issue are Hamling's editorial and the novelette "...So Very Dark" by Daniel Galouye, a story which deals, in somewhat larval form, with Galouye's continuing fascination, throughout his brief literary career (he died relatively young, from complications of WW2 injuries), with motifs of "darkness" as metaphor for the subconscious, and the dangers of manipulation of perception of reality, particularly on the part of governments and other sorts of authority. Almost a child of Asimov's "Nightfall," this story, if rather more elaborated and set against a Cold War framework.

For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog, and spare a thought for those who are fortunate enough to attend the Bouchercon, the annual world convention for crime fiction writers, editors and other enthusiasts, now in progress in New Orleans, and those who have not been able to attend.


  • Publication: The Lost Bloch, Volume One: The Devil With You!I
  • Authors: Robert Bloch
  • Year: 1999-05-00
  • ISBN: 1-892284-19-7 [978-1-892284-19-8]
  • Publisher: Subterranean Press
  • Price: $40.00
  • Pages: 328
  • Binding: hc

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

"The Labor Day Group" by Thomas Disch (and a rejoinder by George R. R. Martin)...An oddly timely 1980/81 codicil to the Humanist/Cyberpunk consideration from last Friday and the recent WorldCon fracas

One of the less well-rendered F&SF covers so far
On this day after Labor Day, around which had been the traditional annual weekend for the literary/fannish science fiction (and more) WorldCons before the more media-oriented Dragon*Con running the same weekends started making things Difficult, here's a reprint of an essay that Thomas Disch wrote as a Books column entry in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1980, published in the February 1981 issue, "The Labor Day Group," wherein he cited a group of writers who had emerged in the 1970s as writing work that stroked fannish sensibilities, and as a result were often the recipients of the Hugo and Nebula awards (the Hugos being awarded from membership polls at  the WorldCons)...as well as to some degree or another among the more popular writers of the decade. 

Amusingly, the Disch review, which also includes a rave assessment of Gregory Benford's novel Timescape, is in the form of dealing with the three best of the year sf annuals published in 1980, devoted to the presumed best short fiction of 1979: those edited by Terry Carr (Ballantine/Del Rey), Gardner Dozois  (E. P. Dutton) (the early series of rather slim volumes, which he'd taken over from Lester Del Rey; Ace Books, then Dell, had been doing paperback reprints), and Donald Wollheim and Arthur Saha (DAW Books)...amusingly to me, anyway (quite aside from my fascination with BOTY volumes and their sometimes eccentric selections), since the example of Bruce Sterling's writing in Cheap Truth I quote in the Friday piece was also a BOTY review, for the first of the current series of fat volumes of sf edited by Dozois...and it, too, is at least as much an attempt to catalog schools of sf writers).  (The Disch link above is to the University of Michigan Press's site, which reprints the essay from their volume of Disch, On SF, without crediting F&SF nor fixing the typo introduced somewhere along the trail that renders Benford's short story "Time Shards" as "Lime Shards"...tasty, the latter, I'm sure, and no more sour than some other things.) (Gregory Feeley notes on FaceBook that the text as posted also mispells Judith Merril's name, with an extra L.)

The Disch essay, on publication, stirred no little controversy, including this response by George R. R. Martin, one of the writers Disch considered part of the group. (Martin in his rebuttal does note a factual error of Disch's, citing Connie Willis's "Daisy, in the Sun" as her first published story, or at least--rather more true--the beginning of her career...her "Santa Titicaca" in the magazine Worlds of Fantasy in 1970 was for some years her only published story; "Daisy" was more like her sixth.)

And a year ago, on the F&SF site, publisher and former editor Gordon Van Gelder (utterly coincidentally 50 years old today) published links to a reprint of the Disch essay (perhaps since taken down at the request of the U Michigan Press) and to the Martin response as transcribed on his website...which post drew a comment from none other than David Truesdale, the short fiction reviewer who was rather famously ejected from the WorldCon last month after turning a panel discussion of short fiction today into a forum for his dislike of "PC bullies" in SF publishing today...an event that isn't quite prefigured by Truesdale's comment to Gordon (who coincidentally was a late arrivee to speak on that panel), but it comes close to being so...(further utter coincidence, or evidence of how small the sf community can be: some objected to Truesdale at the panel trying to use the recently late David Hartwell as an example of sf editor who agreed with Truesdale's resentment of perceived PC trends in sf, and one of Hartwell's more important projects had been the Timescape line he founded at Pocket Books, named for the Benford novel Disch praises highly).

Literary history doesn't exactly repeat itself, but patterns do recur. This will come as news to almost no one, I'm sure...

Friday, September 2, 2016

FFB: INTERSECTIONS: THE SYCAMORE HILL ANTHOLOGY edited by John Kessel, Mark L. Van Name and Richard Butner (Tor 1995/6); MIRRORSHADES: THE CYBERPUNK ANTHOLOGY, edited by Bruce Sterling (Arbor House 1986)

In the early/mid and into the latter 1980s, a knot of some of the more adventurous sf writers started seeing themselves as a school, which some of them dubbed "the Movement" (leaving themselves gapingly open for all sorts of digestive jokes), and which editor/writer/critic Gardner Dozois tagged the "cyberpunks"...as a collective promotional tool, this wasn't the worst gambit, though in retrospect some of the writers so tagged got more out of it than others, and the one held up as exemplar, William Gibson, was among those least interested in public discussion about whether he was Movement Cyberpunk or not (which contrasts pleasantly with the predicament of Joe R. Lansdale, who along with Clive Barker would be hailed as a leader of the horror-fiction "splatterpunks" not too long after, apparently a label he despised and indicative of a similarly self-conscious clubbiness he wanted little or nothing to do with). And it's no fun having a clubhouse if you don't have outsiders to rail against...quite aside from those sf writers, and vocal readers, who found the cyberpunks inherently offputting for their desire to be Bleeding Edge, there were similarly ambitious, often young writers emerging in sf at the same time that the C-punks (and others) recognized as having a different, if somewhat congruent, literarily sophisticated, culturally-curious approach...and they were soon tagged, originally by Michael Swanwick (see below) perhaps but enthusiastically by the Movementists, "the Humanists" (while cyberpunks, borrowing from one of their older and most visionary members, Rudy Rucker, were often rather "transhumanist")... It happens that, even separated by a decade as they are, these two anthologies are interesting core samplings of the "cyberpunks" and the "humanists"...with a representation of the "other" camp within each...

Bruce Sterling's pseudonymously-published quasi-"samsidat" (and utterly uncopyrighted) fanzine Cheap Truth (though the archive at this link doesn't include the complete contents of the fanzine's one-sheet/two-page issues) featured the other cyberpunks as well, under their own pen-names, and their takes on the current scene in the 1980s; here's Sterling on the initial volume of Gardner Dozois's still-continuing best of the year annual: 

*  ICE CRACKS UP WITH '83 BEST OF THE YEAR  **

        THE YEAR'S BEST SCIENCE FICTION FIRST ANNUAL COLLECTION, Gardner
Dozois, ed., Bluejay, $9.95.

        With this volume, Bluejay Books has delivered a stinging duellist's
slap to the slack jowls of the anthology market.  Bluejay's daring must be
roundly applauded and they've come through with a real bug-crusher in this
575-page colossus.

        Veteran editor Gardner Dozois blithely ignores the stock list of Neb
and Hugo nominees to give us work of genuine merit from the most esoteric of
markets.  The man's masochistic dedication to the genre -- he reads SF in
truly industrial quantity -- has never been more in evidence.  His opening
Summation repays close reading for its quick-witted ideology and sagacious
grasp of industry dynamics.

        The book is remarkable for its lack of clunkers.  Even the worst
stories here can be read with a straight face.  The best can stand with
anything written in the past ten years.  More importantly, they show an
earnest effort by '80's writers to scrap old formulas and speak in a modern
vocabulary.

        Greg Bear serves as the exemplar.  His two stories included here have
won dual Nebulas, itself a very promising sign.  As co-editor of the SFWA
Forum, the man was in the heart of the beast, and his daring attempts to
transcend his own limits are therefore doubly praiseworthy.

        His bizarre OMNI story of '82, "Petra," showed something odd stirring
in the Bear attic.  With "Hardfought" and "Blood Music," the man has thrown
restraint to the winds.

        "Hardfought" may be thick with jargon and laden with annoying
attempts at verse.  But it burns with genuine visionary intensity and its
Stapledonian daring arouses real wonder.  This is what SF is about.

        "Blood Music" has a ludicrous plot and has filed the serial numbers
from Sturgeon's "Microcosmic God."  But Bear knows what to borrow, and the
ending goes for broke.  Bear's reckless energy has made him a writer to watch
-- and to emulate.

        Efforts by more established writers show the effect of a real thaw.
Silverberg's "Multiples" is one of his best in years: smooth, devastatingly
plausible, a brilliant idea handled with great skill.  Tanith Lee is at her
unique best with "Nunc Dimittis," a dark fantasy that shimmers with
necro-eroticism.  R. A. Lafferty spryly tramples convention with a story from
his splendid small-press collection, "Golden Gate."  Lafferty has always been
a cult figure.  He will still be a cult figure a hundred years from now.

        Particularly heartening are the efforts of the "'80's Generation,"
listed by Dozois as Bear, Cadigan, Gibson, Kelly, Kennedy, Kessel, Murphy,
Robinson, Shiner, Sterling, Swanwick, and Willis -- surely one of the oddest
groupings ever.  Seven have stories here -- the rest figure prominently in
the Honorable Mentions.

        If these heirs-designate were dropped into a strong magnetic field,
Gibson, Shiner, Sterling, Cadigan and Bear would immediately drift to one
pole.  Swanwick, Robinson, Kessel, Kelly, Murphy and Willis would take the
other.

        Leigh Kennedy goes her own goddamn way.  Her story, "Her Furry Face,"
demonstrates Kennedy's unique style:  low-key, determined prose combined with
an unflinching and peculiar vision.  Reading Leigh Kennedy is like having
your housecat show up with a small dead pterodactyl in its jaws.

        Pat Cadigan's "Nearly Departed" is a psi story, not overly burdened
with technological literacy.  But its tough-minded lack of sentiment keeps
reader interest up.

        Bruce Sterling's "Cicada Queen" shows this ambitious writer manfully
wrestling with this complex Mechanist/Shaper future society.  It should have
been a novel, and apparently will be.

        No review could be complete without a mention of Jack Dann's "Blind
Shemmy."  This story is so sharp-edged that it ought to be read with forceps.

        Altogether, Dozois' collection is excellent, both for what it is and
for what it promises.  Its Summation and thorough list of Honorable Mentions
are worth the price in themselves.  Winter is over -- prepare for spring
cleaning.

Here, as well, are writers Michael Swanwick and James Patrick Kelly discussing, from half a decade ago, the ferment of the 1980s; Swanwick wrote one of the first articles, for Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, about the arguable emerging schools:


The complete discussion from which this is the third excerpt can be seen here...

What helps make these key anthologies of the "camps" that they are, aside from the fiction collected in them and the writers involved, are the introduction to Sterling's volume by the editor, which helps, in still somewhat propagandizing mode (a bit tongue in cheek, but only a bit, and how large a bit sometimes changing from paragraph to paragraph) and, in Intersections, the notes from the story and excerpt contributors about the writer-conference feedback provided for each story in its form as presented, and what the writers made of that.  The generational feel of each group is still strong, even given that Intersections features some writers who came into the field a bit later (such as Jonathan Lethem and Michaela Roessner) as well as the artistic outlier Carol Emshwiller, who first published in the 1950s and was a fully mature artist by the turn of the '60s at the latest (and whose contribution is an excerpt from her first, somewhat eccentric western novel, Ledoyt) ...though John Shirley, for example, among the Other Guys, had begun publishing several years/a half decade before most of the others (and his contribution is the novel excerpt in the earlier book), as had Rudy Rucker...and while his work isn't collected in Mirrorshades, certainly the 1960s veteran Charles Platt was a supporter of the new approaches and their spirit. Also, of course, notable: the presence in each anthology a story by a member of the "opposing camp": Kelly's story in the Sterling book, and Sterling's in the "humanist" document...also, a version of the evergreen, and often expanded, "Turkey City Lexicon" essay about What Not to Do with and in Your Story, a product of a lot of critical apparatus applied within and outside such workshops as the Turkey City sessions of the 1980s (a "cradle of cyberpunk" as the current SFWA-posted version notes)...

Things, as they often do, have kept me from reading enough of the contents of these books to comment much on the stories themselves at this time...soon, I hope. 




Intersections: The Sycamore Hill Anthology ed. John Kessel, Mark L. Van Name & Richard Butner (Tor 0-312-86090-0, Jan ’96 [Dec ’95], $23.95, 384pp, hc) Anthology of stories written at the 1994 invitation-only Sycamore Hill Writers’ Conference, with comments by the writers about their experiences. Authors include Karen Joy Fowler, Alexander Jablokov, Michaela Roessner, and Maureen F. McHugh.

13 · Introduction: Fun in the Burn Ward · John Kessel, Mark L. Van Name & Richard Butner · in *

22 · Bicycle Repairman [Chattanooga] · Bruce Sterling · nv *
60 · The Marianas Islands · Karen Joy Fowler · ss *
76 · Sex Education · Nancy Kress · nv *
97 · The Hardened Criminals · Jonathan Lethem · nv *
129 · The Escape Artist · Michaela Roessner · ss *
148 · Body & Soul · Robert Frazier · ss *
168 · The Fury at Colonus · Alexander Jablokov · nv *
193 · Homesick · Maureen F. McHugh · ss *
211 · from Ledoyt · Carol Emshwiller · ex *
231 · The Miracle of Ivar Avenue ["Hollywood" series] · John Kessel · nv *
269 · Missing Connections · Mark L. Van Name · nv *
296 · That Blissful Height · Gregory Frost · nv *
332 · Horses Blow Up Dog City · Richard Butner · ss *
349 · The First Law of Thermodynamics · James Patrick Kelly · nv *
375 · Appendix I: The Turkey City Lexicon: A Primer for SF Workshops · Lewis Shiner · ar *
383 · Appendix II: Sycamore Hill Attendees · Anon. · ms *

Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology ed. Bruce Sterling (Arbor House 0-87795-868-8, Dec ’86 [Nov ’86], $16.95, 239pp, hc) Anthology of 12 stories by Gibson, Bear, Rucker, Cadigan, and others, plus a preface on the “cyberpunk” movement.

ix · Preface · Bruce Sterling · pr
1 · The Gernsback Continuum · William Gibson · ss Universe 11, ed. Terry Carr, Doubleday, 1981
13 · Snake-Eyes · Tom Maddox · ss Omni Apr ’86
35 · Rock On · Pat Cadigan · ss Light Years and Dark, ed. Michael Bishop, Berkley, 1984
44 · Tales of Houdini · Rudy Rucker · ss Elsewhere v1, ed. Terri Winding & Mark Alan Arnold, Ace, 1981
51 · 400 Boys · Marc Laidlaw · ss Omni Nov ’83
68 · Solstice · James Patrick Kelly · nv IASFM [now Asimov's Science Fiction] Jun ’85
108 · Petra · Greg Bear · nv Omni Feb ’82
128 · Till Human Voices Wake Us · Lewis Shiner · ss F&SF May ’84
142 · Freezone · John Shirley · ex Eclipse, John Shirley, Bluejay, 1985
182 · Stone Lives · Paul Di Filippo · nv F&SF Aug ’85
207 · Red Star, Winter Orbit · Bruce Sterling & William Gibson · nv Omni Jul ’83
228 · Mozart in Mirrorshades · Bruce Sterling & Lewis Shiner · ss Omni Sep ’85

the hardcover editions--two books that weren't sold on the strength of their covers:

Some of this was originally published on Apr 26, 2013; for more reviews of books for today, please see Patti Abbott's blog! (upon appearance in its earlier form) and the blog today for this expanded form.