Monday, November 25, 2013

Some Recent Short Story Releases

     Every so often, book discussion threads take up the popularity (or unpopularity) of short stories.  And there's no doubt that novels sell better, and take up far more space on the store racks.  There's no book store in the town where I live; the local racks are at Wal-Mart and one of the large grocery stores, and when I scan them I seldom find any books of short stories at all unless one of Stephen King's collections has been reissued.
     It wasn't always like this.  When I started buying paperbacks, there were plenty of collections to be found.  Among the writers whose short story collections graced the racks then were: Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Fredric Brown, Richard Matheson, Stanley Ellin, C. M. Kornbluth, Jerome Bixby, Fritz Leiber, Damon Knight, Theodore Sturgeon, Henry Kuttner, Isaac Bashevis Singer, John O'Hara, Cornell Woolrich, Irwin Shaw, Richard Yates, J. G. Ballard, Ray Bradbury, Joyce Carol Oates, and others.  You couldn't move in the paperback aisle without tripping over anthologies edited by Hitchcock, Ellery Queen, Judith Merril, Frederik Pohl, or Damon Knight.  And that's not considering volumes from publishers like Signet Classics offering collections from classic writers like Poe, Hawthorne, James, Twain, Kipling, and others.  As I noted in an earlier post, this was the kind of selection to be found on the racks at one of the neighborhood pharmacies.  To find large selections of short stories these days, you'll have to hit a good-sized bookstore.
     But the advent of the ebook reader means that short stories are easier to find in ebook formats than they often are on most of your local racks.  Among recent ebook releases, you'll find: The Best of Joe Haldeman, which includes a wonderfully creepy Vietnam War horror story called "Graves," and this story alone is worth the price of admission; Jack Finney's About Time, which gathers most of the best stories from his two earlier collections -- several of these stories would have made fine episodes of the original Twilight Zone, and while a few of its selections like "The Third Level," 'I'm Scared," and "Of Missing Persons" may be familiar, there's a lovely lesser-known short fantasy here called "Where the Cluetts Are" which is one of Finney's best; The Horrible Dummy and Other Stories, Nightshade & Damnations, and The Best of Gerald Kersh, all by Gerald Kersh -- Kersh is having a nice revival at the moment, with Faber Finds and Valancourt bringing back several long unavailable novels and short story collections as print and ebook releases; E-Reads has published two collections of John Brunner's short stories, From This Day Forward and Out of My Mind -- the latter includes some of Brunner's best dark short works, such as "The Totally Rich," "The Last Lonely Man," and "The Nail in the Middle of the Hand;" Dennis Etchison's first collection of short horror stories, the award winning The Dark Country; John O'Hara's New York Stories; James Everington's new collection of weird stories, Falling Over; two more volumes of Robert Silverberg's collected short fiction, Hot Times in Magma City and We Are for the Dark.
     Novels may sell more copies, but there's a LOT of fine short fiction out there and it's easily available on any ebook reader.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Jack Finney Finally in the US Kindle Store

   If you're over a certain age, chances are you read Jack Finney when you were in high school.  If memory serves, his wonderful short science fiction story "Of Missing Persons" could be found in high school literature textbooks for some time -- I know that's where I first read it.  I don't know if that story is still being included, but if it isn't that's sad for a number of reasons, one of which is the thought of kids who maybe don't care to read all that much finding themselves caught up in a story that is perhaps the archetypal Twilight Zone episode.
   In his non-fiction book on horror from 1950-1980, Danse Macabre, King spends a few highly complimentary pages on Finney, pointing out the affinity between Jack Finney's fantasies and Serling's television classic.  And he's right -- if you want short stories that embody the feel of the Twilight Zone, I can't think of anyone better.  Some come awfully close, but Finney nails it.
   This isn't to say that Finney owes a thing to Serling.  Finney was there first.
   He was a writer with quite a range; his work included science fiction and fantasy classics like The Body Snatchers (better known by its movie title of Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and Time and Again, crime novels like Five Against the House and Assault on a Queen, and the marvelous short stories you'll find collected in About Time.  His work was often filmed and chances are you've run across adaptations before (Good Neighbor Sam, Maxie, four movies based on The Body Snatchers, and the two crime novels already mentioned), and some day Robert Redford may actually get a film version of Time and Again into production.
   In short work such as "Of Missing Persons," "I'm Scared," "The Third Level," "The Face in the Photo," "Where the Cluetts Are," and others, Finney sets his stage with perfectly ordinary surroundings and ordinary people and then introduces the fantastic in a matter-of-fact manner that makes everything that follows as convincing as a piece of solid reporting; it's an approach that you find in the best Twilight Zone episodes and in the work of other excellent fantasists like Richard Matheson.
   Most of his crime novels are out-of-print, but here in the US, Simon & Schuster has kept a number of his fantasy titles available.  The Body Snatchers, Time and Again and its sequel From Time to Time, Three by Finney (including Marion's Wall, The Night People, and The Woodrow Wilson Dime), and the selection of his short stories About Time have all been in print as trade paperbacks for years.
   In November all these will finally be issued as ebooks here in the US.  If you enjoy excellent fantasy, if you loved Twilight Zone, you'll want to grab these immediately if you haven't read them already.
   I've only two criticisms about the Finney ebook releases:  1) They've been too long in coming, and 2) Where Finney's short fiction is concerned, I wish S&S was doing what Gateway has done for the UK Kindle releases and issued The Third Level and I Love Galesburg in the Springtime; the stories in About Time are taken from those collections, and it would have been nice to see both of those released for Kindle here in the US as well as in the UK.  But Finney's work is finally coming to Kindle, and that's great news for any fan of sf and fantasy.

   And a reminder: this month will see the release in both ebook and paperback formats of two short story collections by Gerald Kersh.  Faber Finds will release The Horrible Dummy, and The Best of Gerald Kersh (Valancourt has already reissued the excellent Nightshade and Damnations in paperback with an ebook in the works but not yet available).

Saturday, August 24, 2013

A Few Words about Elmore Leonard

   Many moons ago, Dean Koontz published a book called How to Write Best-Selling Fiction.  At the end of that book, Koontz included a chapter discussing writers any aspiring novelist was advised to study.  There were a lot of prominent names in that chapter, and some names that were not yet nearly as prominent as they became later; one of them was Elmore Leonard.
   At that time, Leonard was not yet a best-seller, but it was clear that he had all the makings.  In his comments on Leonard, Koontz said (if memory serves) that one day some smart publisher would lay a large stack of dollars on Leonard and ask him to deliver the ultimate novel about city street types, and Leonard would deliver because there was nobody better at that kind of book.
   I hadn't yet read Leonard then, and didn't know the name, but I recognized some of his western titles (Hombre, Valdez Is Coming, "3:10 to Yuma").  Not long after that, Avon Books gave a push to the paperback release of Leonard's City Primeval; I picked up a copy and read a few chapters.  A few chapters was enough to get hooked, and Leonard went on the buy-this-guy-on-sight list, and with good reason.
   There's a story, can't recall where I saw it, about Leonard's time as an advertising copywriter; he'd listen to customers -- in this case people who actually drove the pickup truck being advertised -- and a customer made a comment Leonard wanted to use in the ads, but they wouldn't let him: "You don't wear that sonofabitch out -- you get tired of looking at it and you go buy a new one."  Leonard had an ear for good dialogue right from the start, and he excelled at creating it.  Leonard's ear for dialogue is unsurpassed, and his people -- good guys and bad guys alike -- are so bloody interesting that you have to hang around to see what they do next.  In the Clint Eastwood film Gran Torino there's a line that sums up quite a few of Elmore Leonard's characters: "Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn't have fucked with?  That's me."  That's also a hefty number of Leonard's people, hero and villain, male and female alike.  And unlike so many fictional heroes and villains who seem to have more than a touch of comic book about them, Leonard's people -- from the leads down to the two-line walk-ons -- feel like the kind of people you'd find sitting on the next bar stool.  They feel like people you see every day on the street and you never really notice them unless you cross them somehow.  And Jeez, are they fun to watch.
   If you've not read his novels yet, chances are you've caught some of the films, among them Jackie Brown (from the novel Rum Punch), Get Shorty, Mr Majestyk, Out of Sight, and Hombre.  Good as those movies are, the books are better, fast and lean and often funny and scary at the same time, and never dull, and Leonard brought this off with amazing regularity over a career that spanned nearly 60 years.
   When John D. MacDonald's work began to appear in hardcover, there were several quotes that appeared regularly on the dust jackets.  One was from Gerald Walker, saying that MacDonald "knows everything dangerous that there is to know about people."  Another was from Kurt Vonngut, who said that "To diggers a thousand years from now . . . the works of John D. MacDonald would be a treasure on the order of the tomb of Tutankhamen."  Both quotes could, I think, be fairly applied to the work of Elmore Leonard as well.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

After Re-Reading Some Stories by Robert Silverberg...

   For a long time science fiction and fantasy lived in the short forms.  These days, novels get the press and the attention, but for quite a few years, sf & fantasy were creatures of the pulp magazines, and most of the prominent writers came out of the magazines.  Out of the short forms.  Many of the writers we regard as the giants in sf began their careers in the short fiction markets.  Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, Alfred Bester, C. M. Kornbluth, Fritz Leiber, Ray Bradbury, Fredric Brown, Philip K. Dick....
   And Robert Silverberg.  After too much time away from his work, I had occasion to revisit some of the short work reissued by Subterranean Press and Open Road.  I hadn't read some of these in nearly twenty years -- they hold up wonderfully, and a number of the stories I revisited are even better than I remembered.
   Silverberg got his start in the 1950s, writing for the pulps, and by his own admission a lot of the earliest work wasn't particularly memorable; but with stories like "Warm Man" and "Road to Nightfall" and others, that began to change, and soon he was a writer to watch.  Silverberg was extraordinarily prolific, producing novels and short stories at an unbelievable pace -- that would mean nothing if the stories were simply forgettable hack work, but consider some of the novels and stories that he published in the 60s and 70s: Thorns, Dying Inside, Downward to the Earth, Up the Line, Hawksbill Station, To Live Again, The Second Trip, The Book of Skulls, "To See the Invisible Man," "Flies," "Schwartz Between the Galaxies," "The Science Fiction Hall of Fame," "Passengers," The Masks of Time, A Time of Changes, Nightwings, "To the Dark Star," "Sundance," "Good News from the Vatican," "Born with the Dead," Tower of Glass, and so many more.  If you're familiar with the sf of the period, you know those titles.
   Silverberg produced some of the darkest gems in all of science fiction.  In "Passengers," the earth has been invaded by aliens; silent and invisible they float among us and for their amusement they ride their helpless human hosts, taking them over and controlling their actions until they weary of them and release them and move on to others.  In "Flies," Silverberg's entry in Harlan Ellison's landmark anthology Dangeorus Visions, an astronaut returns to earth; the victim of a fatal accident in space, he has been revived and reconstructed by aliens who send him back changed, a cold observer with an intense interest in pain.  The Book of Skulls presents four students seeking a cult in the desert southwest, a cult that may hold the secret to immortality -- but only groups of four may begin the path, and immortality is granted to only one; the other three will not survive.  Dying Inside gives us David Selig, whose only real connection to others is his ability to read minds, and his ability is quickly fading.
   Silverberg's output wasn't limited to fiction; he wrote non-fiction as well, including The Realm of Prester John, The Mound Builders, Lost Cities and Vanished Civilizations, and If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem.  NonStop Press has recently published his book of essays Reflections and Refractions and the autobiographical Other Spaces, Other Times.
   For an example of Silverberg at the top of his form, check out the recent ebook edition of Sailing to Byzantium: Six Novellas and read "Born with the Dead."  It's set in a world in which the dead can be restored to life to walk the world again, keeping to their own society of the revived and remaining aloof from the living; the protagonist has lost his wife -- she has been revived and he will not accept that she is no longer a part of his life, and he begins to intrude into the deads' society, a society that will not suffer intrusion.  "Born with the Dead" was the centerpiece of the special Robert Silverberg issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1974.  It's one of his strongest stories, and once you've read it, you'll want more.
   One nice thing about ebooks is that "more" is easy to come by.  Subterranean Press is in the process of issuing Silverberg's collected short fiction, both in print and in ebook, and the ebook editions of these volumes are very modestly priced.  Most of Silverberg's novels are available as ebooks as well.  Silverberg's body of work, spanning nearly six decades (his most recent book, Tales of Majipoor, was published in May), is one of the most impressive in modern science fiction.
   For a nice appreciation of Silverberg, check out Barry Malzberg's chapter on him in Breakfast in the Ruins (a book well worth the time of any aficionado of sf); in that chapter, Malzberg says that Silverberg's work was proof that you could " ...write science fiction, yes, rigorous, well-plotted, logically extrapolative science fiction but bring to it the full range of modern literary technique....You really could do this stuff to the highest level of literary intent and it would be better science fiction precisely because of that."  Spot on.
   In speaking of Theodore Sturgeon, James Blish wrote that Sturgeon was the finest conscious artist that science fiction ever produced.  If there are other contenders for that title, Robert Silverberg is one of them.  If you haven't read him, pick up the recent ebook edition of Sailing to Byzantium: Six Novellas, or the Subterranean Press volumes of his collected short fiction, or Dying Inside, or The Book of Skulls, or Downward to the Earth, and enjoy the fruits of one of the great careers in science fiction.

Ebook volumes so far of Silverberg's collected short stories

Sailing to Byzantium: Six Novellas

And in old business:

Earlier posts in this blog noted that Gerald Kersh reissues would be coming from Faber Finds.  Sergeant Nelson of the Guards is available for pre-order in Amazon's US Kindle store, and the short story collections The Best of Gerald Kersh and The Horrible Dummy & Other Stories were listed for pre-order just this morning (Aug 4).  Don't miss 'em.  And don't miss the Kersh titles from Valancourt Books -- Fowlers End, and Nightshade & Damnations.

A number of John D. MacDonald titles that weren't in the initial flood of non-TravisMcGee-series titles this past June will be released as ebooks in January; among them are Cape Fear (aka The Executioners), A Flash of Green, The Neon Jungle, Condominium, and The Last One Left.  There are still a number of MacDonald's books that haven't been ebooked, but at this rate it looks like there's a good chance that all of JDM's titles may be available as ebooks by the end of 2014.

And a brief commercial:  my new short story "Wasps" is in the Amazon Kindle store.  Find it at 

Monday, July 1, 2013

A Few Words in Praise of Richard Matheson

     The Twilight Zone was a television landmark -- five seasons of excellent fantasy, science fiction, and horror performed by almost uniformly excellent casts.  But what made TZ truly memorable was the writing.  If you refer to the writing on TZ, most people will think immediately of Rod Serling, the host of the series, writer of most of its episodes, and probably to this day the only writer immediately recognizable by most of the public.
     While Serling wrote a number of wonderful scripts for that show (including "A Stop at Willoughby," "Walking Distance," "The Shelter," and "On Thursday We Leave for Home"), he was one of three writers whose work made TZ the marvel that it was.
     The other two were Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson.  Beaumont died in 1967, struck down by something like a mutant form of Alzheimer's; at the time of his death at the age of 38, he looked like he was in his 90s.  The disease had affected his ability to work; Beaumont contributed a lot of excellent scripts to TZ, but the heavy lifting on a few of the last Beaumonts was done by his friend Jerry Sohl.
     Richard Matheson, last of the three, died last month at the age of 87, closing one of the great careers in American popular fiction.  His novels included The Shrinking Man, I Am Legend, Hell House, and Bid Time Return (better known as Somewhere in Time).  His work as a novelist was not limited to the horror and fantasy genres.  He wrote westerns (A Journal of the Gun Years, A Gun Fight), suspense novels (Hunted Past Reason, Ride the Nightmare), and a novel of World War II called The Beardless Warriors.
If he had written only The Shrinking Man, I Am Legend, and Bid Time Return, I think he'd have a permanent place in the memories of genre aficionados.  But Matheson was a master of the short story as well as a novelist.  Nobody who's read them forgets classic chillers like "Prey," "Born of Man and Woman," "Duel," "The Children of Noah," "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," or "Button, Button," to name only a few.  His short fiction is usually kept in print along with his novels and excellent collections are available at this writing both in print and ebook formats.
     Matheson was also a superb screenwriter, often adapting his own work for film and television.  He was the screenwriter for the best of the Roger Corman adaptations of Poe in the early 60s, and with Charles Beaumont he adapted Fritz Leiber's Conjure Wife for the excellent horror film Burn, Witch, Burn.  Adaptations by Matheson from his own novels included The Incredible Shrinking Man, Somewhere in Time, The Legend of Hell House, and The Last Man on Earth (the only film version of I Am Legend that bears any resemblance to the original novel).
     He adapted a number of his own short stories for television.  Best known, perhaps, are "Duel" for the Spielberg film, and "Prey" for the climactic segment of Trilogy of Terror.  But Matheson's work for television is most easily found in the original Twilight Zone, and his episodes provided many of that series' finest moments.  The two episodes starring William Shatner, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" and the lesser-known "Nick of Time," were Matheson scripts.  So were "Steel," "Mute," "Little Girl Lost," "Late Night Call," the uncharacteristically light-hearted "A World of His Own," and others.  "Nick of Time," with its depiction of a man on the verge of letting his superstitious fascination with a diner's fortune-telling machine imprison him forever in a small Ohio town, is a perfect example of Matheson's ability to show nightmares lurking behind the surface of everyday surroundings.
     "Death Ship," for TZ's fourth season, is to my mind a real stand-out in Matheson's work for the series.  The original story, dealing with a spaceship crew who land on an alien world and find what appears to be their own crashed vessel and their own bodies dead inside it, is a nice science-fiction-horror story, well worth a read (and you can find it in his collection Duel and Other Stories).  But Matheson's translation of this story into a one-hour TZ episode is nothing short of marvelous.  Scenes in the script that were not in the original story expand and enrich the characters rather than simply padding the narrative for length, and the final confrontation between Lt. Mason and Capt. Ross has an intensity not found in the concluding paragraphs of the short story -- that the scene is performed by a pair of powerhouse actors like Ross Martin and Jack Klugman helps, but the strength of the material is all there in the writing.  The episode is a wonderful example of TZ at its best, it remains as gripping on repeat viewings as it was on the first, and it's one of the very few instances of a film adaptation equal to the original source material.
     So raise a glass to Richard Matheson, one of the best, and check out his books (, and some of his work for film and television (  You won't be disappointed.  And if you've read or seen these before, take a little time to revisit them -- chances are you'll enjoy them as much as you did the first time, and maybe even more.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Gerald Kersh Again, John D. MacDonald Again, and Charles Beaumont

In February, I noted that this fall Faber Finds will be reissuing a number of Gerald Kersh's books; among the releases will be THE THOUSAND DEATHS OF MR SMALL, THE BEST OF GERALD KERSH, THE SONG OF THE FLEA, and others.  Since then, Valancourt Books has also reissued two of Kersh's books, his novel FOWLERS END (described by Anthony Burgess as one of the great comic novels of its century) and NIGHTSHADE AND DAMNATIONS (an excellent selection of Kersh's short stories edited and with an introduction by Harlan Ellison); even better, Valancourt will release new printings of Kersh's novel NIGHT AND THE CITY and the short story collection ON AN ODD NOTE.

John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series was released in ebook form earlier this year; last week, more than thirty of MacDonald's non-McGee books were released as ebooks.  Among the titles were his short story collection END OF THE TIGER, and the excellent suspense novels THE DAMNED, APRIL EVIL, and CRY HARD, CRY FAST.  Wonderful stuff.  And it looks like more MacDonald may be coming as ebooks.  There are no additional Kindle releases listed at Amazon yet, but in February there will be new trade paperbacks of SLAM THE BIG DOOR, A KEY TO THE SUITE, and the brilliant thriller CAPE FEAR; all three list as having an introduction by Dean Koontz, and the titles released last week all have Koontz introductions.  I'm guessing the rest of MacDonald's backlist is in the works, both as print and ebooks, and just not announced yet.

And finally: Charles Beaumont.  If you ever watched the original TWILIGHT ZONE, you know Beaumont's work.  "The Howling Man."  "The Jungle," with its protagonist stalked through the deserted late-night city streets by an African curse.  "Long Live Walter Jameson," the history professor with too much first-hand knowledge of his subject.  And more.  His books are too seldom reprinted (if memory serves the last time you could find a Beaumont collection on the mass-market paperback racks was in the mid-80s).  In late July, Valancourt Books (the above-mentioned publisher of several Gerald Kersh re-issues) will release a handsome trade paperback edition of Beaumont's first short story collection, THE HUNGER AND OTHER STORIES.  If you enjoyed TWILIGHT ZONE, if you enjoyed the work of Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, and William F. Nolan, you don't want to miss this collection.  It's a keeper, and its return to print after nearly 50 years is cause for celebration.

(Another note re: Beaumont.  You serious Beaumont collectors out there should be aware, if you aren't already, of the three hardcover titles available from Centipede Press -- RUN FROM THE HUNTER, THE INTRUDER, and MASS FOR MIXED VOICES: SELECTED SHORT FICTION.  Pricey, but for the collector well worth it; I've never seen a book from Centipede Press that wasn't beautifully done.  If you've got the $$$, you'll want these too.)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Few Terrific Old Science Fiction Grab-Bag Anthologies

    Life may not be like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, but anthologies are -- every story a new little fictional universe unto itself, and you never know what you're going to get.
    When I started reading science fiction, back in the early 60s, anthologies were plentiful.  The library had a good run of the early Bleiler-Dikty year's best collections, and Judith Merril's year's best volumes appeared regularly in the drug store spinner racks.  Damon Knight's A Century of Science Fiction was there.  You couldn't walk near the drug store racks without tripping over one or two anthologies edited by Groff Conklin.  Among the Science Fiction Book Club's regular offerings was the 2-volume Treasury of Great Science Fiction edited by Anthony Boucher.  Adventures in Time and Space, edited by Raymond Healy & J. Francis McComas, perhaps the definitive anthology from the heyday of John Campbell's Astounding Stories, was still around.  Isaac Asimov edited a few volumes collecting the short fiction Hugo Award winners.  Some years later, the Science Fiction Writers of America offered The Science Fiction Hall of Fame collections, Damon Knight edited A Science Fiction Argosy, and James Gunn began his 5-volume Road to Science Fiction.
    Most of these collections mined the magazine work from the 30s through the 60s, so unless you were looking at a year's best collection, any anthology you picked up was a grab-bag of stories that spanned 40 years.  That was fine with me and with other readers.  Someone once observed that science fiction is a genre in which people read back as well as forward.  A year's best is current material, but the others mentioned above are not.  Of those books, most are out of print.  The SF Hall of Fame volumes are still available; so is James Gunn's Road to Science Fiction, but Gunn's volumes are now published by a library reprint house and priced out of the reach of most readers.
    These days, the closest equivalent I've seen to the Boucher or the Knight or the Healy-McComas is probably a collection edited by Orson Scott Card called Masterpieces: The Best Science Fiction of the 20th Century.  Any serious reader of science fiction will note the absence from that book of writers like Tiptree, Ballard, and Zelazny, but there's a lot of excellent work in that volume; if you were going to hand a new reader of sf some good representative anthologies, Card's collection should be in the stack.  Unlike any of the others mentioned here, Masterpieces is available as an ebook.
    While the year's best collections edited by Gardner Dozois and others are released as ebooks, those older collections never have been; it seems to me that some of those publishers are missing a bet.  Collections like Knight's Argosy, Boucher's Treasury, and Adventures in Time and Space are filled with stories (and in the cases of the Knight and the Boucher, novels as well) that are still essential reading for the science fiction fan.  I would hope that the only thing in the way of ebook reissue of these collections is difficulty in getting digital rights from some of the authors or their estates.  If it's because the publishers simply aren't interested in reissuing them at all, that would be a bad sign -- it would mean they were losing sight of the fact that sf readers read back as well as forward.
    Time was, you could find collections like Gunn's or Knight's Century or Asimov's Hugo Winners anthologies in your neighborhood drug store spinner rack.  Not any more.  I don't believe the SF Book Club has offered the Boucher or Knight's Argosy or Adventures in Time and Space in a decade, maybe longer.  How many libraries these days have, as my neighborhood library did when I was 13, a good run of the Bleiler-Dikty or the Judith Merril year's best collections?  It's not quite as easy to read back these days as it used to be.  You can still find single-author collections, but those big spectacular grab-bags, those wonderful boxes of chocolates where you never knew what you were going to get but you knew you'd probably like it -- those seem to be getting fewer and farther between, and the older ones are now easily available only from used book dealers and on some library shelves.  Pity.
    And if you want to see just what kinds of treasure chests were out there on the drug store racks and from low-cost sources like the SF Book Club, check out the contents pages of a few of them.  (The links below are to the Index to Science Fiction Anthologies and Collections web site, and if you ever need to track down a book containing a particular sf short story this is a terrific source.)

Damon Knight: A Century of Science Fiction 
Damon Knight: A Science Fiction Argosy 
Raymond Healy & J. Francis McComas: Adventures in Time and Space 
Anthony Boucher: A Treasury of Great Science Fiction 

  At the moment (and I think through the end of May), Open Road will be offering some of their short story collections at bargain prices.  You can pick up ebooks of Theodore Sturgeon's Selected Stories, Irwin Shaw's Short Stories: Five Decades, Jonathan Carroll's The Woman Who Married a Cloud, and collections by Octavia Butler, Budd Schulberg, Stanley Elkin, Robert McCammon, and others, for a song.  Run, do not walk.

And a brief commercial: my most recent short story collection, Vanishing Acts, is now available from the Amazon Kindle store and at Smashwords (and from Smashwords it should soon be released for Sony, the iBookstore, and other retailers).  Four stories, 99 cents.  Give it a look when you get a chance.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Few Words About Open Road Media

   I'd like to say a few words in praise of Open Road Media.  Open Road's been around for a few years now, making a lot of backlist titles available as ebooks, and the range of work offered is wonderful.  You can check out the goodies at:
   You'll find Walter Lord's books on the Titanic and thrillers by Jack Higgins.  Science fiction classics by Theodore Sturgeon and political science works by James MacGregor Burns.  Modern classic war novels by James Jones and contemporary horror by Robert McCammon.  Literary biographies by Fred Kaplan and Erich Fromm's books on psychology.  Suspense novels by Ruth Rendell and short stories by Stanley Elkin.  Work by Octavia Butler, William Goldman, Fay Weldon, William Manchester, Barbara Pym, and more. 
  Working with Otto Penzler's, they've brought us excellent suspense novels by Brian Garfield, James M. Cain, Donald Westlake, and others.
   Open Road offers a selection as varied as that of the best traditional publishers, and that isn't surprising because the CEO and co-founder of Open Road, Jane Friedman, was president and CEO of HarperCollins for a decade and before that she was a VP at Random House.
   The people at the helm of Open Road know publishing as well as the technology of creating ebooks, and they do a NICE job of preparing ebooks.  Open Road has recently issued a large portion of Irwin Shaw's backlist; it had been more than twenty years since I'd read Shaw's Rich Man, Poor Man or Beggarman, Thief and I revisited them once the pre-orders showed up on my Kindle.  If there were any typos, I didn't notice them, and the same is true of the other Open Road titles I've read.
   Open Road has published ebooks of backlist titles that hadn't been available in bookstores for years, among them Irwin Shaw's Voices of a Summer Day, Budd Schulberg's The Four Seasons of Success (under the title Writers in America), and Malcolm Lowry's October Ferry to Gabriola.  Open Road does backlist right, and the company deserves our congratulations, our thanks, and a share of our ebook dollars.  Here's hoping they stick around for a long time to come.

   (And if anyone from Open Road happens to read this, please consider the following writers if possible: Don Robertson, Stanley Ellin, Thomas Williams, Jon Hassler, Charles Beaumont, Gerald Kersh, Tabitha King, Walter Tevis, Evan Hunter, Jack Finney, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Jorge Luis Borges, Roger Zelazny, and Joseph Epstein.)


And a brief commercial.  Have put a few of my ebooks back up on Smashwords, from which they'll make their way back to Sony, Barnes & Noble, Diesel, and Apple's iBooks store some time fairly soon.  Give 'em a look when you get a chance (but if you've not read Sturgeon, or Shaw, or Goldman or some of the others mentioned above, make sure you grab their books first).

Friday, March 29, 2013

Writing Rules; Ray Bradbury Coming to the US Kindle Store

     I don't know about you, but I'm a sucker for books and articles on writing if they're done by people whose work I've read and admired.
     Sometimes the articles don't seem all that useful.  Since they're by people whose work I admire, I assume that I'm just too dense to see what they're getting at.  This does wonders for the ego.
     Sometimes the articles seem to be echoes of each other.  For a perfect example of that, see the Writer's Handbook from 1982.  This one contained an article by John D. MacDonald called "Creative Trust," and another by Stephen King called "Imagery and the Third Eye."  Both deal with the use of the telling visual detail to paint a bigger picture in the reader's mind.  They approach the subject from slightly different angles, and both are well worth reading.
     The articles that tend to be the most fun, though not necessarily the most useful, are the ones that deal with rules for writing.  You can probably find a lot of rules-for-writing articles without much digging, and if you browse through some of them you can probably think of books you love that break one or more of those rules.  My impression is that the more specific and rigid the rules the easier it is to think of exceptions.
     Over the years, I've found that my favorite sets of rules for writing come from (in no order of importance) Robert Heinlein, Stephen King, Natalie Goldberg, Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and one more player to be named shortly.
     Heinlein had five: 1) You must write.  2) You must finish what you write.  3) You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.  4) You must put it on the market. 5) You must keep it on the market until sold.
    At first glance that third rule might seem to imply that you'd be sending out a lot of first-draft material.  Not necessarily; if it isn't right after the first draft's done, revisions would fall under rule 2.  Heinlein was working in a time when there were plenty of magazine markets, and the rates might be a penny a word and sometimes less.  Once you thought a piece was ready, it wasn't cost-effective to go over it again unless an editor said he'd take it if you made a few changes.
    You'll note that Heinlein's rules aren't genre-specific.
     You can find King's in an article called "Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully, in Ten Minutes."  Here are some of them:  3) Be self-critical.  4) Remove every extraneous word.  5) Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft.  12) If it's bad, kill it.
     Bradbury listed three rules in his essay "Zen in the Art of Writing:" 1) Work.  2) Relaxation.  3) Don't think.
     Elmore Leonard drew up a list of ten in a New York Times piece called "Easy on the Hooptedoodle."  Among his rules were: 3) Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.  4) Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said."  At the end of the essay, Leonard mentioned a rule that encompassed all the others: "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."  This is reminiscent of Simenon striking out or rewriting sections of his novels if they seemed too literary.
     And finally, Natalie Goldberg's, from her book WRITING DOWN THE BONES: 1) Keep your hand moving.  2) Lose control.  3) Be specific.  4) Don't think.  5) Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, & grammar.  6) You are free to write the worst junk in America.  7) Go for the jugular.

     You've noticed that many of these rules echo each other.
     "You must write.  You must finish what you write." = "Work." = "Keep your hand moving."
     "Never look at a reference book while doing a first draft" is kin to "Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, & grammar" and, a bit farther removed, to "Don't think."
     "Lose control," "You are free to write junk," and "Don't worry about spelling, etc.," are all suggested by that single word "Relaxation."
     Quite a few of the rules you'll find in some of the books and articles are aimed at silencing the internal editor.  The internal editor is the guy inside you who tells you that you can't write that because your parents would hate you if they ever read it; he's the guy who wants you to look up all those obscure facts in the reference books while you're writing your first draft so that you lose the heat and the flow of what you were trying to put on paper; he's the guy who tells you at the end of every sentence that you're wasting your time and that you never had anything to say anyway so there's no point in filling any more pages with your drivel.  Once you've got a draft you can start worrying about cleaning it up, but the internal editor will try to make sure you never get a draft written in the first place.
     Once the draft is written you can start fixing what's wrong, and you can safely assume that something will be wrong.  (King's "Be self-critical;" elaborating on this, he commented that only God gets it right the first time.)

     But in all those articles and books, there's only one absolute, I think.  It comes at the end of a volume of poetry by Nicanor Parra, POEMS AND ANTIPOEMS.  It's the last line of his poem "Young Poets:"
     "You have to improve the blank page."
     And if you haven't improved the blank page, see King's rule 12.


   Ray Bradbury's work will be coming to the US Kindle store in April.  Not all of it yet, but a good start.  FAHRENHEIT 451 had already been issued, but the rest of his work remained unavailable in digital formats for some time.  This past summer much of his work appeared as ebooks in the Amazon UK store, and now more Bradbury titles will be released in Amazon's US Kindle store.  Among them are DANDELION WINE, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, NOW AND FOREVER, and GREEN SHADOWS, WHITE WHALE.  No announcements yet for THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, THE OCTOBER COUNTRY, and several other major titles, but I don't imagine they'll be too long in coming.  Have your ebook readers ready.



Elmore Leonard's "Easy on the Hooptedoodle:"

Stephen King's "Imagery and the Third Eye:"

King's "Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully in Ten Minutes:"

Robert Heinlein's Rules:


Natalie Goldberg's WRITING DOWN THE BONES:

John D. MacDonald's essay "Creative Trust" appeared in the January 1974 issue of The Writer.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Theodore Sturgeon's Complete Short Fiction To Be Issued as Ebooks

   If you haven't bought an ebook reader, this alone is reason to take the plunge.  For fifteen years, North Atlantic Books has been releasing a set of books that presented all the short stories, in chronological order, of the wondrous Theodore Sturgeon; the first appeared in 1994 and the last appeared in 2010.  It's a beautiful set, containing Sturgeon's fiction with appreciations by other writers and end notes by series editor Paul Williams.  In April, all 13 volumes will be released as ebooks.

  Don't recognize Sturgeon's name?  He was one of the finest writers of short fiction ever to grace the science fiction field; if you've not read stories like "The Man Who Lost the Sea," "Thunder and Roses," "A Saucer of Loneliness," or "Slow Sculpture" you're cheating yourself.  If you're a fan of the original Star Trek series, you've probably seen the two episodes Sturgeon wrote for the show ("Shore Leave" during the first season, and the second season opener "Amok Time").  Sturgeon wrote novels too: the magnificent More Than Human is chief among them, but The Dreaming Jewels and the chilling Some of Your Blood are also not to be missed.

   In his book The Four Seasons of Success, Budd Schulberg likened the body of work a writer produces to a mountain range -- not every peak is Everest; that's the case with Sturgeon as well.  But there isn't a single volume in the North Atlantic set that doesn't contain at least one story that is all by itself worth the price of the book.  Every volume contains classic short works from a writer who was fine enough to stand with the best in or out of the genre.  And while you'll find these books categorized as science fiction, not every story in them is sf.  You'll find fantasies, westerns, horror stories, and mainstream works as well.

  It's tempting to describe plots, but that kind of information is easily found in reviews and on more web pages than anyone can count, and plot isn't the most important part of a story anyway; it's not negligible by any means, but fiction is about people, and there are few writers whose people are as achingly real as Sturgeon's.  He could break your heart with a line; he could reduce you to tears (of joy or sorrow) and it seemed to be so effortless for him to do it.  Don't believe it?  Check out "The Graveyard Reader," "Bright Segment," "Hurricane Trio," "The Girl Who Knew What They Meant," or "A Saucer of Loneliness," among numerous others.  Read the sequence in "The Widget, the Wadget, and Boff" in which a man  looks at a gun in a pawn shop window, considers what he regards as its design flaws, and comes to a realization of his own wish for death.  The writing is dazzling, but it's not dazzling because of flash and tricks -- it's because you're in the company of a writer who knows his craft and who knows and cares for the characters about whom he writes.  Samuel Delany once described Sturgeon as the American short story writer; in his obituary of Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison said that Sturgeon could squeeze your heart until your whole life ached.  He could indeed.  And there are few writers who could do that nearly so well and so often as Sturgeon.

  In the mountain range of any writer's work, not every peak is Everest, and that's true of Sturgeon's work as well.  But taken as a whole, these thirteen volumes of Sturgeon's complete short stories offer one of the great mountain ranges in American fiction.

Find them at:  Theodore Sturgeon-Complete Short Fiction

  And a brief commercial: This Saturday, Sunday, & Monday, my collection A Souvenir from the War, and Other Stories will be available free in Amazon's Kindle store.  It's a mixed bag, containing short fantasy, horror, and mainstream stories.  Grab it while the price is right.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Gerald Kersh Reprints Coming This Fall

   Looking back, I'm not sure why Gerald Kersh's books weren't all over the paperback racks here in the US during the sixties.  But I can remember seeing only Men Without Bones, and later Nightshade & Damnations.  Another collection, On an Odd Note, had appeared in the late fifties.  All three were collections of Kersh's fantastic tales.  Of his many novels, I can recall seeing only Night and the City and The Secret Masters in paperback on the shelves of second-hand dealers.  It's strange that Kersh's own books weren't all over the racks because his short stories were featured so often in books that were widely available.  Kersh's stories were regularly found in Judith Merril's Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy anthologies, in the numerous anthologies that appeared under Alfred Hitchcock's byline, and in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine

   The first time I noticed Kersh was in a 1966 science fiction paperback called Star of Stars edited by Frederik Pohl; the book was a selection of the best stories from Pohl's Star Science Fiction anthologies and Kersh was represented there with one of his finest, "Whatever Happened to Corporal Cuckoo?," the story of a soldier made immortal centuries ago and what his immortality did to him.  By the time that book appeared, Men Without Bones and On an Odd Note had vanished from the mass market racks; what Kersh I found was in the Merril and Hitchcock anthologies.  In 1968, Fawcett brought out Nightshade & Damnations, a collection of eleven of Kersh's best stories, selected and with an introduction by Harlan Ellison.  Within a few years after that Kersh went out of print in the US and stayed that way for a long time.  Finding Kersh titles here meant a lot of digging in used book shops or ordering them from overseas.  Later, the internet and Amazon made them easier to find; a number of his titles are fairly pricey these days, but at least you can find them.  Two of his novels and a short story collection (Prelude to a Certain Midnight, The Secret Masters, and Men Without Bones) are available in paperback here from Black Mask and Men Without Bones is also available for the Kindle.  Small presses such as Crippen & Landru and Ash-Tree Press have issued short story collections, and most recently Centipede Press published London Stories and a new edition of Night and the City, but it's been quite some time since there was a large reissue of Kersh's work.

   That may change this fall.  According to the listing pulled up in Amazon's advanced search function, Faber Finds will reissue several of Kersh's books in trade paperback starting in September -- no word yet on ebook editions, but many Faber Finds titles have appeared both in print and ebook formats.  Listed for release are Sgt Nelson of the Guard, The Horrible Dummy and Other Stories, and The Best of Gerald Kersh; Amazon UK also shows The Song of the Flea, and The Thousand Deaths of Mr Small.  Another novel, The Implacable Hunter, may also be scheduled.  If we're lucky, Faber will reprint even more of Kersh's backlist -- there's a lot of wonderful material there that's been unjustly neglected for too many years.

   Kersh was a terrific writer, inventive and engaging, equally at home with fantastic stories and with tales of soldiers or street hustlers and his rediscovery by a wider audience is long overdue.  Don't take my word for it -- take it from Harlan Ellison's introduction to Nightshade & Damnations, "Kersh, The Demon Prince":

   "By the excellence of what he has done, Gerald Kersh infuriates and spurs other writers to try and beat him at his own game.
   "Perhaps one day, one of us will realize that it is impossible to beat a Demon Prince.  The sonofabitch uses magic.  No mortal can write this well."

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Late to the Party

I'm not always late to the party.  For instance, when Robert B. Parker started hitting the best-seller lists with his Spenser novels I was already a fan.  I'd followed Roger Zelazny since his first two books appeared as Ace paperbacks, well before he began the Amber series.  Before Jorge Luis Borges was being commonly mentioned here in the US as a likely Nobel Prize recipient (and it's a crime that he never got it), I was following some of his work (which was featured in Judith Merril's collections of the year's best sf and fantasy, and in Terry Carr's New Worlds of Fantasy anthologies).  Not always late.

But when I'm late, I'm really late.  Watched my first episode of Doctor Who last month on Netflix; this year marks 50 years since the first episode.  (And if you're even later to the party than I am, the series is delightful and you should give it a look.)  Didn't check out Stephen King until 'Salem's Lot was out in paperback and The Shining and Night Shift were on the hardcover racks.  Didn't pick up a John D. MacDonald book until the mid-1970s.  Didn't read William Goldman until Marathon Man came out in paperback and Spider Robinson's rave review of The Princess Bride ran in Galaxy magazine.  Am only now starting on Neil Gaiman's work.

And then there's Jonathan Carroll.
He's been around a while, and when his first novel, The Land of Laughs, appeared in paperback I picked up a copy and before I got around to reading it, Voice of Our Shadow, his second, had also been issued in softcover.  Read them both, but for some reason, they didn't make a big impression at the time.  I'll assume that I zipped through the books too quickly to appreciate them.  Maybe I wasn't exactly late to the party, but when I got there, I stuck around a few minutes and motored before I knew what a terrific party it was.

The Wikipedia page devoted to Carroll mentions a comment from a reviewer who says if Carroll were a Latin-American writer with three names, his books would be described as magical-realist.  True enough, but probably not all that important here. 

What's important is his characters -- funny, quirky, damaged, frightening, witty, always engaging, always interesting, and wonderfully human.  The people who inhabit the pages of Jonathan Carroll's fantasy novels are as achingly real as those you'll find in the work of Theodore Sturgeon or Don Robertson, and by me that's high praise.

You want to know how good Carroll is?  After revisiting his work when Open Road reissued a number of his titles as ebooks several months ago, I visited Carroll's web site and read every blog entry (the archive goes back to July 2004), and it was time well spent in the company of a writer with a gift for character, a terrific eye for detail, and a ready supply of quotes from other writers as well.

If you want a nice introduction to his work grab a copy of his short story collection, The Woman Who Married a Cloud.  Or The Land of Laughs.  Or The Voice of Our Shadow.  Or The Ghost in Love.  Or...well, pick one -- I don't think you'll be disappointed.  And don't forget to check out his blog too.

Find links to Jonathan Carroll's books and blog (and more) at:

Friday, January 4, 2013

And More Backlist Coming...

Open Road Media continues to release good backlist titles as ebooks.  Coming this month are several titles by British novelist Barbara Pym, among them Jane and Prudence, No Fond Return of Love, and A Glass of Blessings.  Also scheduled for January are a number of titles by James M. Cain; while he's best known for Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Mildred Pierce, his later work is well worth checking out -- The Institute, The Magician's Wife, and Rainbow's End are among the Cain titles due in January.  And this month will see three of William Goldman's best novels: Marathon Man (for my money the finest thriller of the 70s, and if you know this one only from the movie be advised the book is a LOT better), Boys and Girls Together, and The Temple of Gold (his first novel); Goldman is known today mainly as a screenwriter, and his best known book is the delightful The Princess Bride, but before he began spending most of his time on scripts he was primarily a novelist, and the Open Road releases coming this month are three of his best.  I've written about Goldman in this space before and you can find that post here.

Not long ago, I noted that the entire Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald would be released as ebooks this month; even more of MacDonald's backlist will be coming to the Amazon Kindle store in June.  34 titles, among them The Damned, Murder in the Wind, The End of the Night, April Evil, The Deceivers, Cancel All Our Vows, and Cry Hard, Cry Fast.  When these are released, most of MacDonald's backlist will be available as ebooks; still not scheduled are MacDonald classics like The Executioners (aka Cape Fear), A Flash of Green, and End of the Tiger -- with any luck by the end of 2013 they'll all be available.

UPDATE, Jan 6 -- End of the Tiger, one of MacDonald's short story collections, is now listed in the Kindle store as a June release; this one's worth grabbing for the title story alone.

Impending bankruptcy has never looked so good...

A brief commercial: for the next few months my own ebooks will be available exclusively in the Amazon Kindle store; right now they're not available at Smashwords, B&N, or Sony, but they may be back there this summer.  The Kindle editions are sold without DRM so you should be able to read them on other devices as well.

I'll be running a free promotion on one of those titles this weekend, Jan 5-6.  For these two days The Other Iron River, and Other Stories will be free at the Kindle store; the collection includes three stories: "Acts of Faith," "Ghost Writer," and "The Other Iron River."  You get zombies, a ghost story, and in the title piece, a time travel story that I like to think catches a little of the Jack Finney/Twilight Zone feel.  Grab it while the price is right, and I hope you'll enjoy it.

And bests to all.