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: