Friday, December 8, 2017

FFB: MIND FIELDS by Harlan Ellison and Jacek Yerka (Morpheus International 1994)

Jacek Yerka is a Polish painter who was influenced first and foremost, we're told, by the Flemish school of representational art, and one can see that; the degree to which he was also influenced by Rene Magritte among the other Surrealists is also hard to miss, though there's a softness to the lines of some of his paintings not much like Magritte at all, and a sharp clarity in some that outdoes the playful elder master.  Harlan Ellison, a writer mostly but by no means exclusively of fantasy fiction and popular-culture criticism, was unsurprisingly drawn to Yerka's paintings, and with this project took to writing vignettes in response to individual paintings, sometimes little anecdotes or jokes or musings, sometime fully-fleshed if brief short stories. Not the first time Ellison would write stories around paintings, a common commissioning practice in the fiction magazines of the 1940s, when Ellison began reading them, and the 1950s, when he began his career writing for them; and not an uncommon means of creation of fiction in any era; I've done it...there's no little chance that you've done it. Further, collections of vignettes is an approach Ellison had used fruitfully before, in such literary portfolios as "From A to Z, in the Chocolate Alphabet" and, perhaps less obviously, in working around a common theme in some of his best work, such as "The Deathbird". This book is, so far, the last collection of predominantly new work Ellison has published, aside from the comics adaptations, mostly of older stories, for the magazine project (and collected reprints in book form) Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor.

The stories in this volume have only infrequently been seen elsewhere, and are for the most part not Ellison's best work, but are still engaging examples of his approach, each taking its title as well as inspiration at least in part from the painting it's paired with. As a nice package deal, illustration and story together, three were published in magazines before or alongside the book's appearance in 1994:

from the Locus Index:  
Mind Fields: The Art of Jacek Yerka; The Fiction of Harlan Ellison Jacek Yerka & Harlan Ellison (Morpheus International 0-9623447-9-6, Mar ’94, $24.95, 71pp, tp, cover by Jacek Yerka) Art book, a collection of 33 full-color paintings, each paired with an accompanying original short-short or prose poem by Harlan Ellison based on the painting. With notes by Ellison. A 1,000-copy hardcover edition (-03-7, $45.00 — already sold out) and a signed, slipcased, leatherbound 475-copy limited edition (-00-2, $95.00) were announced but not seen. Available from Morpheus International, 200 North Robertson Blvd., Suite 326, Beverly Hills CA 90211.
Yerka's painting trimmed for the cover format
Two of the stories, "Susan" and "Fever", were reprinted in Datlow and Windling's The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror volumes for 1994 and '95, respectively; otherwise, the prose items have in some cases been included in Ellison's retrospective collections published since, but only a few of them...they do work best, for the most part, not divorced from the paintings, even if the better ones can stand on their own. Ellison is usually better at longer forms of short fiction, giving himself room to dig in and explore the psyches of his characters in greater detail, but the charm of much of his mature work is in evidence here...the notes help make clear, as do the dedications from both Yerka and Ellison, that this book was assembled in stressful times for nearly everyone involved: Ellison had several heart attacks in the period, his wife Susan, for whom he describes "Susan" as a valentine of a story, had spinal disc problems, Jacek Yerka's young son died, not living to see the advice he gave to his father on the last painting in the book come to fruition, and even the publisher at Morpheus, James Cowan, was afflicted with motility problems that looked at first as if they would require extensive surgery (Yerka dedicates the book to the memory of his son; Ellison to the memories of the then recently-dead friends Isaac Asimov, Fritz Leiber and Avram Davidson). Added to this, Ellison is particularly disturbed  by the early '90s resurgence of Nazism and similar fascist tendencies, including Pat Buchann's new prominence as both presidential candidate (I suspected then and continue to suspect, in part to deflect David Duke from having as much influence on the GOP's contest as he might, as the less-well-known Trump wildcard of 1992) and Holocaust skeptic, however partially. Certain things never go out of style. Ellison deals with this most explicitly in "Twilight in the Cupboard".

It's a lovely book, though the semi-gloss pages in large format make it easier to look at than to read (the reproduction of the paintings looks to be excellent)...not the book to start with for Ellison, which would probably be one of the versions of Deathbird Stories, but worthy of one's time and effort to obtain it...very reasonably priced copies of the paperback edition are available from the Usual Sources.

And one of the best stories, and the painting that, to a degree Ellison found annoying, seemed to catch everyone's eye as the epitome of Yerka's brilliance, the book's cover painting as a result, "Attack at Dawn", was the sample Algis Budrys, a lover of automobiles among other relevant things, took for his magazine Tomorrow, in the same issue that published my first story. As a result, this book has a certain sentimental resonance for me. The 1995 Year's Best Fantasy and Horror which includes Ellison's "Fever" also includes my story "Bedtime" in the "Recommended Reading" longlist.

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

Mike Doran points us, in comments below, to this interview, from Tom Snyder's CNBC series, in 1994...the tape source it was uploaded from was in pretty rough shape in parts (though the audio is never seriously disrupted), and dates from the days when YT limited uploads to about 7-8 minutes each:

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Underappreciated Music, the links to the sounds and the words about them, October/November 2017 updated

Rest in Glory: Jon Hendricks, 1921-2017
The (frequently) monthly assembly of undervalued and often nearly "lost" music, or simply music the blogger in question wants to remind you reader/listeners of...

Patti Abbott: Nightly Music

Brian Arnold: The Boston Pops: Christmas Festival; Holiday Music and more; Hallowe'en music and more One; Two; Three

Jayme Lynn Blaschke: Friday Night Videos

Paul D. Brazill: A Song for Saturday

Jim Cameron: Booker Ervin: Tex Book Tenor 

Alice Chang: Hiroyuki Sawano: "Sylvalum (night)"

Sean Coleman: Pretenders II 

David Cramner: The Flaming Lips: "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots"

Bill Crider: Song of the Day; Forgotten Hits; Link Wray and His WrayMen: "Rumble"

Jeff Gemmill: Top 5s; Joan Jett and the Blackhearts: I Love Rock'n'Roll; Janet Jackson in concert, 1990; Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in concert, 1990;
Olivia Newton-John: Totally Hot; Juliana Hatfield in concert, 2017; Paul Weller in concert, 2017

Jerry House: Big Mama Thornton; Hymn Time; Music from the Past; Jim Kweskin and His Jug Band
Big Mama Thornton, John Lee Hooker, et al.: "Hound Dog"/"Down Home Shakedown"

Jackie Kashian: Ryan Conner on Smashing Pumpkins

George Kelley: Greatest Hits of the '70s; The Bodyguard: The Musical; La Bouche: Sweet Dreams

Kate Laity: Song for a Saturday

Lambert, Hendricks & Ross: "Moanin'"

Jon Hendricks and Company: "In Walked Bud"

Lambert, Hendricks & Ross and Joe Willisms: "Everyday I Have the Blues"

Evan Lewis: Shary Richards & co.: The Sounds of the Silly Surfers/The Sounds of the Weird-Ohs

Marc Maron: Kim Deal

J. Eric Mason: Aural Image #42 (a Spotify playlist)

Todd Mason: spirits; a Whole Lot of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross (and Bavan)

Joe Megalos notes: Sun Ra on BandCamp

Becky O'Brien: Moana S/T: "There You Are"; The Walking Dead S/T; Stranger Things season 2 S/T; American Made S/T; Flatliners (2017) S/T 

Andrew Orley: Nobody's Listening

Dizzy Gillespie's centenary year: 2017: To Bop or Not To Be: A Jazz Life (1990)

Lawrence Person: Shoegazer Sunday

Charlie Ricci: The Gospel Whiskey Runners: Hold On; Dan Auerbach: Waiting on a Song

W. Royal Stokes: Best Jazz CDs of 2016 

Produced by George Avakian, 1919-2017

Friday, December 1, 2017

FFB: THE OVERLOOK FILM ENCYCLOPEDIA: HORROR, edited by Phil Hardy (Overlook 1993); ROMANCING THE VAMPIRE by David J. Skal (Whitman 2008)

Here's the second and so far final edition (1993, after 1985) of one of the more impressive, if deeply flawed, reference/critical works in horror film; among the flaws is that the entries are unsigned, so that one can have the fun of trying to suss out if it was Kim Newman, Tom Milne, Paul Willeman, Julian Petley, Tim Pulleine or editor Hardy, or some combination, who are responsible for one opinionated entry or another. Another rests squarely with Hardy and his publishers and their editors: to make room for new content, two relatively minor films were dropped from this edition (albeit everyone who loves horror in my generation of USians has at least heard of Don't Look in the Basement), while all kinds of questionable inclusions (Sorority House MassacreThree O'Clock High as examples from either end of the suspense film quality range featuring psychopaths) continue...and similarly quasi-relevant work (say, El Topo) is missing, or, like Kongo, only mentioned in the entry for a film it's closely related to, as in this case as a non-silent remake of West of Zanzibar. Less of a judgement call, the index is all but useless unless you know the title or the common alternate titles of a film they offer a primary entry for; it a title is only mentioned in the text of a primary entry, good luck finding it, as with Kongo. (They have cogent things to say about the most obvious horror and horror-related films of Ingmar Bergman, but no entry in the index for The Devil's Eye, or Wild Strawberries, with its notable nightmare-sequence beginning...which would be more forgivable without full entries for the likes of Fatal Attraction.) And, as almost everyone complains about this book, it's no dry simple compendium of facts, but an often self-contradictory repository of strong opinions; someone on staff really hates Robert Bloch's scripts (without noting how much they were meddled with by the likes of producer/directors William Castle and Milton Subotsky, which one would think might be the purview of a book such as this), while someone else makes a point of praising (justly, I'd agree) the likes of the mistitled (not by Bloch!) Torture Garden (someone presumably had a copy of Octave Mirbeau's novel kicking around the office).

But in this enumeration of some of the faults of the book, I think you might be gathering some of the virtues: it's by no means a comprehensive account of all horror films made (it misses a whole lot of video-only items, including such cult gems as Trancers and Subspecies 2, while noting others as it occurs to them to do so; Japanese and some other east Asian horror filmographies are given a reasonably good representation, but hardly a thorough one, and Korean films--admittedly a booming business in the years since--hardly represented at all), it is in its nearly 500 oversized pages full of informed consideration of a wide range of horror film, including any number of obscurities that might be new to all but the most knowledgeable fan/scholar. It's the kind of book that lends itself to an online or at least hypertextual sequel, and is worth your attention if you come across it. I can see why it's fetching such large prices on the secondhand market. Thanks to Kate Laity for the gift.

Meanwhile, David J. Skal's book is a charming example of what might even hold together better online, but would lose precisely its tactile gimmicks. Skal, who could write the text of this survey of vampires in popular culture in his sleep, has that rather deft (and non-automatic!) text augmented by even more illustration, all in full color when the original is, and with the kind of tipped-in paper ephemera that did so well for Griffin and Sabine and its sequels a decade or so back; as such, this must be, if not the most expensive book Whitman Publishing has ever attempted, then certainly the most elaborate I've seen. (It comes, in its conceit of being a true scrapbook, with an unattached male vampire face mask, as well as with postcards, film-strip-like photo arrays and more in pouches or taped onto the pages.) At 144 augmented pages, all but necessarily slipcased, it sure isn't a Big Little Book while certainly also being a rather fat big book, and given the number of copies available at the picked-over Borders stores I've been visiting, it probably didn't do the Overlook/Horror originally priced at $50 (well, minus 5c and in 2008 rather than 1993 dollars), you can currently get one at a Borders so endowed for $3.75 (less if you have the discount card, which will no longer be honored after Sunday). Eminently worth the effort to take the look.

A redux post from 2011.

For more of Friday's Books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.

Friday, November 24, 2017

FFB: Terry Carr, ed: SCIENCE FICTION FOR PEOPLE WHO HATE SCIENCE FICTION (Doubleday 1966); Harry Harrison, ed: THE LIGHT FANTASTIC (Scribner's 1971)

--Redux post from 2012:
Missionary Work

Science Fiction for People Who Hate Science Fiction was Terry Carr's first solo anthology to be published, after a volume or two of his work with Donald Wollheim on their Best of the Year sf volume for Ace Books; The Light Fantastic: Science Fiction Classics from the Mainstream (sic: there is not now, nor has there ever been, a true mainstream of literature) was not Harry Harrison's first antho, but his first, as well, was an sf BOTY, in his case for Putnam/Berkley, with Brian Aldiss as increasingly co-editing junior partner in the first volume or so. Perhaps the same impulse that drives one to work on annual showcases makes putting together this kind of "instructional" anthology particularly attractive, even beyond the usual "this is important, or at very least interesting" thrust of nearly any anthology assembled with care, the cases of these two fine anthologies, the instructional thrust can be executively summarized as "Open your eyes." (The appended "fool!" is only occasionally barely audible, though almost impossible to completely suppress, as well.)

The Carr anthology brings together accessible, intelligent, (at the time) not terribly overexposed mostly sf stories (H.L. Gold's synesthesia tale "The Man with English" certainly is arguably fantasy, and Arthur Clarke's "The Star" introduces supernatural elements of the most widely accepted sort in Christendom)...Ray Bradbury's "The Sound of Thunder" hadn't quite become common coin by the mid '60s, and the Damon Knight story, despite "To Serve Man" having become a much-loved Twilight Zone episode, was nearly as famous as Knight's other early joke story, and even more sapiently pointed). While "What's It Like Out There?" remains The cited example of What Else Edmond Hamilton could do aside from planet explosion, and the Wilmar Shiras a slightly odd choice in this set of encouraging the outlanders to try some of the pure quill. Algis Budrys, in reviewing this one at the time, noted that people who hate sf hate reading, and the only way to get them to take up this book would be for it to be socially necessary to have on their coffee-table or equivalent (as Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five and Stranger in a Strange Land and to a lesser extent at that time Dune and No Blade of Grass and The Child Buyer would be)...but the thoughtful reader who thought they hated sf somehow (probably more common in '66 than today, if not much moreso) could find some diversion here, at very least. Or, by the end of the decade, could enjoy making a joke about reading up on the topic in their Funk & Wagnalls paperback edition.

Harry Harrison attempts a slightly more double-edged trick, in getting the (presumably well-meaning ignorant) snobs against sf to consider reading the form, and to get similar snobs within the sf-reading community to look beyond the commercial labels for the pure quill wherever it's actually found. Harrison, too, gets in some work in this "sf" context that is arguably (the Cheever, the Greene) or almost inarguably (the Lewis, the Twain) fantasy rather than sf, though the sort of fantasy that sf people usually find agreeable, even leaving aside the time-travel paradox introduced in Anthony Burgess's "The Muse" (Burgess, of course, couldn't leave sf alone any more than C. S. Lewis could, and saw no more reason to do so than Lewis, I'm sure). And, of course, Gerald Kersh and Jorge Luis Borges had no qualms about being considered writers of fantasticated fiction, as long as no one insisted that was all they did or could do, and, happily, no one has...if anything, Kingsley Amis, that passionate advocate for sf so labeled, has seen his advocacy and contributions to the literature all but forgotten in favor of his Angry Young Man (and Older Man) satire, even when careful to have Lucky Jim a reader of Astounding Science Fiction magazine back when Analog was still called that.

It's a funny old world, and there's no shortage of ignorance of all sorts, but that's what this FFB exercise is here to combat, in its small and often nostalgic way. I liked both these anthologies a lot as a kid, and would still like them if I was first to open them today. What more could we ask?

Science Fiction for People Who Hate Science Fiction ed. Terry Carr (Doubleday LCC# 66-24334, 1966, $3.95, 190pp, hc); Also in pb (Funk & Wagnalls 1968).

7 · Introduction · Terry Carr · in
11 · The Star [Star of Bethlehem] · Arthur C. Clarke · ss Infinity Science Fiction Nov ’55
21 · A Sound of Thunder · Ray Bradbury · ss Colliers Jun 28 ’52
37 · The Year of the Jackpot · Robert A. Heinlein · nv Galaxy Mar ’52
79 · The Man with English · H. L. Gold · ss Star Science Fiction Stories #1, ed. Frederik Pohl, Ballantine, 1953
91 · In Hiding [Timothy Paul] · Wilmar H. Shiras · nv Astounding Nov ’48
135 · Not with a Bang · Damon Knight · ss F&SF Win/Spr ’50
143 · Love Called This Thing · Avram Davidson & Laura Goforth · ss Galaxy Apr ’59
157 · The Weapon · Fredric Brown · ss Astounding Apr ’51
163 · What’s It Like Out There? · Edmond Hamilton · nv Thrilling Wonder Stories Dec ’52

The Light Fantastic ed. Harry Harrison (Scribner’s, 1971, hc)
· Introduction—The Function of Science Fiction · James Blish · in
· The Muse · Anthony Burgess · ss The Hudson Review Spr ’68
· The Unsafe Deposit Box · Gerald Kersh · ss The Saturday Evening Post Apr 14 ’62
· Something Strange · Kingsley Amis · ss The Spectator, 1960; F&SF Jul ’61
· Sold to Satan [written Jan 1904] · Mark Twain · ss Europe and Elsewhere, Harper Bros., 1923
· The End of the Party · Graham Greene · ss The London Mercury Jan ’32
· The Circular Ruins [1941] · Jorge Luís Borges; trans. by James E. Irby · ss Labyrinths, New Directions, 1962
· The Shout · Robert Graves · ss The Woburn Books #16 ’29; F&SF Apr ’52
· The Door · E. B. White · ss The New Yorker, 1939
· The Machine Stops · E. M. Forster · nv Oxford and Cambridge Review Nov ’09
· The Mark Gable Foundation · Leo Szilard · ss The Voice of the Dolphins, and Other Stories, Simon & Schuster, 1961
· The Enormous Radio · John Cheever · ss The New Yorker May 17 ’47
· The Finest Story in the World · Rudyard Kipling · nv Contemporary Review Jul, 1891
· The Shoddy Lands · C. S. Lewis · ss F&SF Feb ’56
· Afterword · Harry Harrison · aw

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

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Books Received: THE CLINGERMAN FILES by Mildred Clingerman; WIDOW'S MITE and WHO'S AFRAID? by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

Greg Shepard's Stark House has added another two-novel volume to their valuable selection of reprints (full stop, but in this case specifically) of Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's suspense novels, this one replicating in primary content its Ace Double previous paperback edition. I hadn't realized till now, or had forgotten, that she died relatively young, even for her time, in 1955 at 65 or 66 years of age, and while the paperback boom was certainly well under way, she was a bit early to benefit from, at least, Fawcett Gold Medal at its height. Even her more modest novels (the only one I've reviewed so far on the blog, for example, Too Many Bottles or The Party Was the Payoff , depending on which edition one read) are worth the effort. her better ones drew the extended admiration of such contemporaries as Raymond Chandler and such successors as Ed Gorman and Sarah Weinman. Her author portrait on the back is rather reminiscent of Ayn Rand, a writer she in no other way resembles...Sanxay Holding having wit, grace and character (and characters rather than mouthpieces lecturing each other) in her writing...


Through the kindness of Scott Cupp, present as I was not at the World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio this year, I now have a copy of The Clingerman Files, edited by Mark Bradley and including apparently all Mildred Clingerman's completed short fiction, previously published or not, in the initial and perhaps only volume to come from Size 5 1/2 B Publishing (we gather from the logo it was probably Clingerman's shoe size), an outfit made up largely of her family. Clingerman was a productive (but not Hugely productive) and highly-regarded fantasy and sf writer of the 1950s and '60s; never wrote a novel, when that was (at least as much as now) the way to a sustained career in the field, and even with sales of two stories collected here, two stories to Collier's  and one to The Ladies Home Companion, didn't get much more than a supplementary income from her writing...her one previous collection, A Cupful of Space, was published by Ballantine in 1961, in the midst of a severe cash-crunch for that company, and as a result her daughter remembers an advance of merely $600...enough to buy a used car then, to be sure, but a far cry from what Ballantine had been able to offer its writers a half-dozen years before (or than either slick magazine would've paid for her short stories individually). Her first story to be published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, "Minister Without Portfolio", was agented, and the editors were amused to have her described as "a beautiful but unpublished writer", leading Anthony Boucher to jokingly wonder what her agent was trying to offer (Boucher and McComas note the phrase, if not their response, in the headnote of the story as published in F&SF for February 1952; the response can be read in The Eureka Years: Boucher and McComas's Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 1949-1954, edited by Annette Peltz McComas).  I shall be digging into both of these, and other kindly provided items by Scott, in the coming weeks.