Friday, April 24, 2015

FFB: GALAXY OF GHOULS (aka OFF THE BEATEN ORBIT) edited by Judith Merril (Lion Library 1955)

    A thoroughly enjoyable anthology of fantasy, sf, horror and Merril's then-favorite term for all fantastic fiction, "science-fantasy" (often in the specific sense of that which mixes fantasy and sf aspects, tropes and furniture, as well as Merril's more broad sense, which she would eventually trade for a broad definition of Robert Heinlein's "speculative fiction" suggestion of some years earlier). Mostly a collection of very recent stories (in those days when anthologists were often striving to avoid reprinting stories other editors had featured, at least when feasible), and as such a sort of run-up to her best of the year annual which would debut the next year as well as sequel to the similar mix in the previous year's anthology, Human?...and all her previous anthologies going back to the first, Shot in the Dark (1950). (She and then-husband Frederik Pohl also ghost-edited, for Heinlein, Tomorrow, the Stars [1952].)
    And, given that Merril apparently made sure the title of the book was changed for the two Pyramid reprints, after the collapse of Lion, perhaps suggests the kind of leaden touch that would help doom Lion Books in the paperback boom years.  I would've suggested Pure and Applied Sorcery, given the running theme of her headnotes.
    Galaxy of Ghouls ed. Judith Merril (Lion LL25, May ’55, 35¢, 192pp, pb) Also as Off the Beaten Orbit.
"Wolves Don't Cry" is the first of several shapeshifter stories here, not all about werewolves, and is notable for the degree of conviction Elliott invests in his portrait of a wolf which suddenly, one morning, finds himself having become a human. While his ability to pick up English, even in the very well-run mental hospital he finds himself in, seems a bit too facile, he is a magical creature, after who's very interested in how his pregnant mate and incipient pups are doing (and the protagonist's one, um, date, with a human woman, is perhaps the most squirm-inducing passage in the book--Elliott, who briefly edited some Playboy imitators later on, was famously a bit of a rake, and one senses this).

"The Ambassadors" is a charming joke story about the discovery of an improbable (at the time) Mars populated by a range of animals similar to that of Earth, only with sentient wolfish creatures as the dominant manipulators of the environment. Happily, this leads to new acceptance and job opportunities for formerly underground werewolves, and eventually for corresponding wolf to ape shapeshifters from the Red Planet. Boucher makes blind reference to his early story "The Complete Werewolf" and to Jack Williamson's novel Darker than You Think; conviction and in-jokes would clearly catch Merril's eye at this point.

"Share Alike' by Jerome Bixby and Joe E. Dean (the latter utterly unknown in fantasy/sf/horror circles otherwise, and someone Bixby presumably met as managing editor of Jungle Stories as well as Planet Stories at the turn of the 1950s; Dean had at least two stories in the adventure pulp) is a reasonably straightforward, if revisionist, vampire story in form. However, as a coded male homosexual romance story, it's pretty strong stuff, and I remember well reading it and the other contents of the first issue of Beyond Fantasy Fiction, H. L. Gold's 1953-1955 companion to Galaxy Science Fiction, and even as a 13yo in 1978 noting how barely sublimated the sexual content of nearly every story was, most less daring in their heterosexuality if also no more openly about sex, while obviously so. I didn't find another magazine of the era so obviously torn between wanting to let its flag fly and being afraid to be blatant about it till the first issue of Help! I'd see, from about seven or eight years later but acutely aware of the youth of an even larger segment of its audience.

"Blood" is an unusually minor if still charming example of a Fredric Brown joke-vignette; Damon Knight's "Eripmav" is a funnier variation on similar material, and if they didn't both help inspire James Howe to create Bunnicula, they could have.

"A Way of Thinking" remains the closest Theodore Sturgeon came to anticipating splatterpunk, in a story that he had to wait several years (until 1953) to see published, apparently (though there are some contemporary references within that suggest it was given another draft before Howard Browne bought it and apparently used this straightforward horror story to fill a sudden hole in an issue of Amazing rather than running it in the more natural home of Fantastic. Sturgeon's name was missing from the Amazing cover of that issue (at left); given the writer's status in 1953 and how much Browne loved his work, that seems unlikely given anything but last-minute placement.)  The first of two stories where the protagonist is an intentionally obvious analog of the writer himself. 

"Child's Play" is the first story in the book to have been multiply anthologized before Merril's use of it here (and since), but it's a natural fit in the book (and it's probably not all that germane that Merril had an affair with Philip "William Tenn" Klass, any more than that she had a longstanding crush on Sturgeon...both are brilliant stories). Given all the sinister doppelganger stories through the centuries, in looking at this one again I was thinking about all the nudges this one gave to another notable example, Harlan Ellison's "Shatterday"--that one a much more stripped down model. Conrad might've helped inspire both, and Poe all three.

The Wellman is the first-published and one of the most brilliant of the often-brilliant series of stories about John the Balladeer, incorporating as much of the folklore and folkways of the Southern Appalachians as possible (including songs) into the fantasy and horror (and occasionally borderline sf) stories. Often, this is the example used to introduce the series to newcomers, and not a bad choice at all.

"The Wheelbarrow  Boy" hasn't been too widely reprinted since its first US appearance in F&SF in 1953, but I certainly remember it from Robert Arthur's YA anthology Alfred Hitchcock's Monster Museum, where its point shone just as nakedly (and wittily) as it does here.

Leslie Charteris, who would consistently drop in on the margins of fantasy and sf, does so with "A Fish Story," the second story in the book to feature an analog of its author as protagonist...not-exactly-Charteris and his wife meet and learn from an eccentric man who Really Gets Fish, and Mermaids, and the like. A very deft ending.

"Desertion" is the Most Classic inclusion here, and probably the farthest from horror (except, perhaps, to Astounding editor John W. Campbell, who decided eventually he hated its message, being a human chauvinist and as proud of it as he was)...but, as Merril is quick to point out,  it is perhaps the most classic sf shapeshifter story...aside from the obvious examples by Stevenson and Wells.  This one I first read in a classroom textbook, though not one of the stories that was assigned in that 7th Grade class.

"The Triflin' Man" is, typically of a Walter Miller story, very readable as a Christian allegory, in large part; not atypically of a Fantastic Universe story, it's set among rural folks who might not completely understand what's going on around them, but that doesn't stop them from taking decisive action. Rather good as an example of either.

Leiber's parody of Mickey Spillane and Mike Hammer is still pointed and funny, and, with Jean Kerr's similar if a bit broader lampoon, remains a lifelong favorite (I'm also more fond than many of Howard Browne's pastiche for an early and huge-selling issue of Fantastic, "The Veiled Woman").

"The Demon King" has a very thin plot--Satan appears in a small city's annual panto festival on Boxing Day, to play itself in a variation on the story of Jack and Jill--sustained by Priestley's wit, charm and eye for detail. The oldest story in the book, receiving its first US publication.

Meanwhile, the early Sheckley story which follows demonstrates how he was willing to tweak notions of fan-service in stories from the very beginning...something Alfred Bester was prone to as well, though Sheckley even from the start could be even more double-bottomed (Bester more pyrotechnic). Another fine ending, less vague that it might seem at first.

The Bradbury is the only story in the book to challenge the Simak in terms of widespread distribution (the Tenn tapered off some over the decades), though it might not've had quite the staying power of "Desertion"...I'd certainly suggest it doesn't hold up as well, even if one feel something of tug Bradbury is doing his best to yank from the reader at the conclusion. (I first read this one in a Robert Arthur "Hitchcock" antho, as well.) 

And Arthur Porges's final entry is a cheerful bit of nihilism, with the only dedicated ghoul in the pages, which somewhat improbably has the retribution of the other animals toward humans, and our offshoots such as witches and vampires, led by the rabbits. 

Good stuff, both the classic stories and the more obscure, or at worst good enough. 

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

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Films and/or Other A/V: the links

In a Lonely Place
This week's selection of (mostly) recommendations of (and a few warnings about) insufficiently-appreciated or simply obscure film, television, radio, audio recordings, and more...thanks, as always, to all the contributors and to you readers...

Anne Billson: Top Ten Film Sequels; Imagine Film Festival 2015

Bill Crider: The Ninth Gate [trailer]

BV Lawson: Media Murder

Comedy Film Nerds: Kevin Pollak

Two O'Clock Courage
Dan Stumpf: In a Lonely Place

Ed Lynskey: The Good Die Young; drive-ins

Elizabeth Foxwell: Two O'Clock Courage; The Buchan Tradition

Evan Lewis: The Thin Man: "Robot Client"

George Kelley: Gracepoint

How Did This Get Made?: Con Air

Iba Dawson: The Apartment; Limelight

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr.: local children's tv series; TCM films roundup

Jack Seabrook: Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "Man from the South" (by Roald Dahl)

Jackie Kashian: Kerry Jackson on comic book television and more...

Jacqueline T. Lynch: Watch on the Rhine

Jake Hinkson: Jupiter Ascending

James Reasoner: Empire of the Sun

Jeff Flugel: Dracula A.D. 1972

Jerry House: Arch Oboler's Plays: "Big Ben"

John Grant: The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: "Annabel"; I'd Give My Life (aka Noose)

Juri Numelin: Overlooked Film Weekend: Stake Land, Leonard Part 6, Angst, Samurai Cop etc.

The Hard Problem
Kate Laity: 3 Minutes of Terror; The Hard Problem (by Tom Stoppard)

Ken Levine: tv series On the Bubble

Kliph Nesteroff: The Mike Douglas Show: Leslie Gore, Totie Fields and Lee Berman (1965)

Laura: The 9th Guest; Let Us Live

Lucy Brown: The Red Pony
The Truth about Emanuel
Martin Edwards: The Truth about Emanuel

Marty McKee: Top Cop

Mike Tooney: Sherlock, Jr.

Mystery Dave: Winter's Tale

Patrick Murtha: World for Ransom; Robert Aldrich and actresses

Patti Abbott: Le jour se lève (aka Daybreak)

Randy Johnson: I Want Him Dead (aka Lo voglio morto)

Rick: Son of Frankenstein

Rod Lott: Dracula Untold

Ron Scheer: themes from western films and television

Sergio Angelini: Double Confession

Stacia Jones: Firewalker; That Guy Dick Miller

Stacy Alesi: Palm Beach Peril 2015

Stephen Bowie: Playhouse 90

Steve Lewis: Curtain at Eight: Get Christie Love!

Vince Keenan: Bob Hope

Yvette Banek: The Birds (1963 film) 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Saturday Music Club on Sunday: revisitation

Womyn of Destruction: "If I Knew You Were Comin'"

Jawbox: "Static"

Autoclave: "Dr. Seuss"

FLiP: "Kagome, Kagome"

Fanny: "Blind Alley"

The All Mighty Senators: "Mary Mack"

Light in Babylon: "Hinech Yafa"

J. Robbins, Brooks Harlan & Gordon Withers: "Static"

L7: "Pretend We're Dead" (live and eventually NSFW)

Friday, April 17, 2015

FFB/S: "Super Whost" by Margaret St. Clair and why it matters...

Margaret St. Clair, despite admirers much better-known than myself including Ramsey Campbell and Martin H. Greenberg, remains stubbornly underappreciated.  I've finally read one of the gently satirical stories in her early series about a suburban married couple of the future, Oona and Jick, the second, "Super Whost," from the July 1947 issue of Startling Stories. As with most of the series, it's not yet been reprinted, despite being charming and funny and a cross between the kind of "comic inferno" writing that would be associated with Galaxy magazine a few years later, and the kind of surprisingly sharp domestic farce that Jean Kerr and Shirley Jackson would also be writing not long after, and echoed more popularly and broadly by I Love Lucy and eventually Erma Bombeck. (In a quotation from St. Clair in her rather good Wikipedia entry, she notes that the reader response to her stories in this never-collected series was less than warm, but one suspects the motivated writers were the same sort of fanboys who so usefully drive a lot of online conversation today.) The story is a deft account of Oona's attempt to win a vacation on Mars through a short essay/blurb contest requiring proofs of purchase from the packaging of a glutinous wheat product,  Super Whost, and the result of having entirely too much of the stuff in the house as a result of the extra expenditure, along with various further agglomeration of Super Whost as others' attempts to rid themselves of the product, after also gathering proofs of purchase for prizes, lead to Oona and Jick both "winning" even more of it. Unlike as in some of the "comic inferno" writing as Galaxy started to get lazy in the mid 1950s (where characters might've simply stuffed themselves sick with some similar product), it occurs to both Oona and her husband to simply throw the stuff away, but it's just expensive and useful enough to make that less easy to contemplate than attempting to palatably use it up, and it's in the little details of commercial exploitation (the contest) and social interaction (a friend, having made her own SW treats for what amounts to a bridge or mah jongg party, remarks a bit pointedly about Oona apparently not being too pleased with the dessert...Oona deflects this with a mention of needing to get in shape for the upcoming season with her new frontless bathing suit). Having been exposed to network radio advertising from the 1940s, its descendants through today but particularly those of the decades past from, say, Kraft and Jell-O, and generally aware of the long shadow of Depression and
July 1947...typical SS cover for 1947.
wartime privation 
over even the relatively comfortable middle class I was raised in, and the Feminine Mystique that Friedan was able to delineate, for those who hadn't quite let it set in, fifteen years all resonates.

Looking at St. Clair's ISFDB citations, one sees that she, like her slightly later-arriving peers such as Algis Budrys and Robert Sheckley (or Ursula Le Guin and Michael Shaara...Kate Wilhelm and Richard McKenna...Philip K. Dick and...), generated a torrent of work from the latter 1940s through the end of the 1950s, when she slowed a bit...and, like those other (shall we call them "post-Futurian"?) writers, she was the product of a broad, rigorous college education in literature and writing, in a way that most of the auto-didacts who had been Futurians or associated with the Futurian magazines such as Astonishing Stories or Science Fiction were not, even if their interests and approaches (and educations) were similar--and those folks would be much of the core of writers who helped make Galaxy what it was, and so influential on sf and other literature which followed. While St. Clair was publishing these stories in Samuel Merwin's issues of Startling Stories, the odd (but influential and well-remembered) story such as William Tenn's "Child's Play" or T. L. Sherred's "E for Effort" was popping up in John Campbell's Astounding Science Fiction...even if Campbell eventually regretted publishing a few of them since he had some trouble with their perspective when it set in with him. Certainly, Judith Merril and Evelyn E. Smith and Kit Reed, as well as Theodore Sturgeon, Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury and certainly Fritz Leiber, might've found themselves nudged in certain directions in their writing by that of St. Clair, who would do more forceful work than "Super Whost" while retaining this story's charm and wit...perhaps such other underappreciated geniuses as Wilma Shore were influenced as well.

Please see Patti Abbott's blog for more of today's books and/or stories...and a reminder of why the late Ron Scheer matters...

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Films and/or Other A/V: the links

Devoted this week to the memory of Ron Scheer. 
Read the Book from Ron Scheer on Vimeo.

Anne Billson: Guilty Pleasures?

Bill Crider: Cellular [trailer] (Vince Keenan on Cellular)

BV Lawson: Media Murder

Comedy Film Nerds: Chris Gore

Ed Lynskey: The Boogie Man Will Get You

Elizabeth Foxwell: Murder is News; Stan Freberg

Evan Lewis: Satan Met a Lady

Gerge Kelley: Batman vs. Robin

How Did This Get Made?: Tango & Cash

Iba Dawson: Respire (aka Breathe)

Ivan G. Shreve, Jr.: Bulldog Drummond on US radio and in film

Jack Seabrook: The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: "Starring the Defense" (by Henry Slesar)

Jackie Kashian: M. Dickson

Jacqueline T. Lynch: The Helen Morgan Story

Jake Hinkson: Helen Holmes and early action heroines

James Reasoner: The Dovekeepers

Jerry Entract: The Drum
Q Planes

Jerry House: Dark Fantasy: "The Sea Phantom"

John Grant: Plump FIctionQ Planes

Jonathan Lewis: Four Flies on Grey Velvet (aka...); Iron Man (1951 film)

Juri Nummelin: Fear Over the City (aka...)

Kate Laity: It Came from Schenectady...

Kliph Nesteroff: Interview with Dick Cavett

Laura: Jeopardy (1953 film); Witness to Murder

Lucy Brown: An Inspector Calls

Martin Edwards: Arthur and George

Marty McKee: Scorpion (1986 film)

Mystery Dave: Poultrygeist

Patrick Murtha: Cambio de suerte (aka  Lucky Bastards--literally "Change of luck")

Cleo from 5 to 7
Patti Abbott: Cleo from Five to Seven

Prashant Trikannad: libraries in Southern India

Randy Johnson: Three Men from Texas; Stop the Slayings (aka....)

Rick: Joe 90; Jean Renoir

Rod Lott: The Naked Witch

Ron Scheer: The Sons of Katie Elder

Sergio Angelini: Slayground

Stacia Jones: That Guy Dick Miller

Stephen Bowie: Mannix

Steve Lewis: The Skull (by Robert Bloch)

Vince Keenan: Charles Brackett