Wednesday, January 8, 2014
If you think of Rod Serling, you think first of The Twilight Zone. Chances are you think of Night Gallery next. And if you're old enough, or if you're one of those who pays more attention to the writing credits than to directors, you may think too of the film adaptations of Seven Days in May and the original Planet of the Apes, and of Serling's earlier works for television such as Patterns and Requiem for a Heavyweight.
You don't think books; Serling wrote television (and when he was at the top of his game, there were few writers in the medium who could equal him).
But yes, he wrote some books as well. Not many, but there were a few, and they're available again as ebooks. With one exception, those books were collections of short stories he based on his television work. Three of them were adaptations of some of his Twilight Zone episodes; two were adaptations of some of his scripts for Night Gallery. The exception was a collection of three novellas called The Season to Be Wary.
When I started buying paperback books, his collections of short stories adapted from Twilight Zone episodes were on the racks and I grabbed them immediately. To my mind, the TZ books suffered a little from what might be called Novelization Syndrome, in which a story written for one medium is translated to another and loses some of its energy in the translation. (If you've read playwright William Inge's first novel, Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff, you can see something similar operating there -- Inge's narrative sometimes reads more like stage direction and director's notes than prose fiction, as if he'd originally imagined the work as a play rather than a novel.) Serling had already conceived these stories and told them properly as short films and it seemed to me that they lost something in the move to narrative prose. But those books included adaptations of some of Serling's finest work for the series, among them "The Shelter," "Walking Distance," and "A Stop at Willoughby," and they retained enough of their impact to make the books well worth the time.
Serling didn't walk away from short fiction after doing the TZ adaptations. In 1967, he published a book of three novellas, The Season to Be Wary. The novellas were not adapted from television scripts, but they had the energy and the feel, the themes and the twists, of Serling's best work for Twilight Zone (and two of the three were adapted a couple of years later for segments in the pilot film that launched Night Gallery); these novellas show a writer becoming as comfortable working in narrative prose as he was working in screenplays, and as Mark Olshaker notes in his introduction to the recent ebook edition they offer a tantalizing glimpse of the future Serling might have had as a novelist.
Six Serling titles are currently available as ebooks; they are: Stories from the Twilight Zone; More Stories from the Twilight Zone; New Stories from the Twilight Zone; Night Gallery; Night Gallery 2; The Season to Be Wary. You can find all of them in Amazon's Kindle store; if you're not a fan of ebooks, you can get the three TZ titles as trade paperbacks at this time and chances are trade paperbacks of The Season to Be Wary and the Night Gallery collections will soon be available too.
If we're lucky, these volumes will be followed by ebooks gathering some of Serling's other work for television. In the late 50s, a collection was published that included Patterns, Old MacDonald Had a Curve, The Rack, and Requiem for a Heavyweight, and Serling's comments on each -- it would be nice to see that one available again. Ditto some of his other scripts, such as A Storm in Summer and Slow Fade to Black. (And I for one would pop instantly for an ebook containing both the television and the feature film scripts of Requiem for a Heavyweight with any available notes from Serling.) Contemporary audiences know Serling mostly through Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, but there's a lot of terrific work by Rod Serling that doesn't get as much air time these days as it should; here's hoping that we'll see some of those scripts restored to print as well.