Rod Serling’s Devils and Demons

February 6, 2018 5:56 am by Crocodile


Yikes I kind of fell off writing this blog! Well, back on. Today’s selection was a gift from my good friend Matt Z. He’s always giving me stuff because he’s a very giving person and also because he hates having a ton of stuff around. But I think he found an extra copy of this because I know he loves this one, and I was asking about it before Halloween. Actually maybe this one is his only copy and it’s just a loan?? I should double check.

I’ve only read one story in this book, which I must’ve read when I stayed over at Matt’s house one night, and which I definitely only read because he insisted. It isn’t really spooky so much as deeply melancholy and unexplained, and it doesn’t jibe well with the paper mache ghouls on the cover (although the cover rules). It’s called “Adapted”, and it’s by Carol Emschwiller. It’s about slowly changing everything cool and weird about you because you think it’ll make your life easier. 🙁

Adapted is only 9 (paperback sized) pages, so I scanned it in and formatted it for you: adapted (pdf), and if you want to print it out and make a booklet out of it that you can leave places, I made a separate booklet pdf– if your printer does double-sided prints, you should be able to just print it out on 3 sheets of paper, staple them in the center, fold over, and trim the edges. Here’s the file: adapted_to-print (pdf) and it should look like this:

Because saddle-stitched books have to print in sets of 4 pages, and this story is only 9 pages, there are some extra blank pages at the end. You can use these pages to draw how you feel when you’re done reading this, or draw a picture of the main character, or just draw shapes while you think about it.

Again, if you’re reading it on your phone or whatever, use this one: adapted (pdf). The other one has the pages all mixed up in such a way that they sort themselves out only once the whole thing is printed and folded. It will seem foolish and wrong unless you follow it through to its true destiny.

Sound off in the comments if this format works for you and if you want to see more stuff shared like this! I hate pdfs but they are the format of choice if you’re going direct to printing stuff out. If you’re Carol Emschwiller and you want me to take this down I will. I love this story and I think about it all the time!

This Rod Serling-edited book came out February 1967, this is the 3rd printing, also 1967. Cover price is $.60, which, adjusted for inflation is $4.52 in 2018 money. Of the 14 stories in this book, a whopping 9 are in the public domain, which is a very cool style (and a cost-saving measure for a publisher).

“Adapted” is from 1961 and originally ran in “The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction”, May 1961. $.40 in 1961 is $3.36 in 2018 money. Here’s the cover of that one:

Big big big thank you to Matt Z for insisting I read this, and also for finding a cheap copy of Cat Eyed Boy vol 2 for me!!!!

Back on the horse! More soon!

                                                                                                 

The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward

October 3, 2017 9:02 pm by Crocodile

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
By HP Lovecraft

Lovecraft lived in Providence RI, where I am now, and he set a lot of stories here and around here. Living here you sort of hear his name a lot. The first summer I lived here I read this book, and was delighted to find out that the demoniacal experiments of the main character took place in the part of town I was living in (Olneyville). Years later there was a Lovecraft festival in town (the “NecronimiCon”, or course) and they showed a movie version of this story. It was maybe the best movie experience I’ve ever had????

The movie was directed by Dan O’Bannon and O’Bannon’s widow was on hand to present. But what she presented wasn’t the official release (which looks kind of dumb) but a work print that O’Bannon made, a sort of “pre-director’s cut”. The important part here is not that we saw the “true version”- we didn’t. This wasn’t the version before studio hacks re-edited it, nor was this the work of an auteur, or even someone doing something on purpose. What we saw was a work print, a version of the movie made after shooting but before the finishing details. It was a version of the movie that was accidentally perfect but that basically could not exist.

First of all, there was either no music or very limited music. The music had yet to be added. This is a bizarre way to see a movie, and an incredible way to see a horror movie– it was completely lacking in emotional cues. In a normal movie if you’re creeping through a catacomb and a slithering hellbeast is about to lurch out at you with needleteeth glistening, the music lets you know that the mood is one of creepiness and that something sinister is about to happen. In this case, there was just the sound of footsteps and dripping, then suddenly something horrible. At first I didn’t notice that there was no music– it was like when someone gets a haircut and you know something’s weird but you can’t figure it out.

The other thing that was special about this version was that it was put together before most of the special effects had been completed. As a result, almost every instance of a horrible monster or a huge explosion was replaced with a black screen, followed quickly by the aftermath. You’re creeping through a catacomb, the screen goes black, and when the image comes back you’re covered in blood, and someone you were with is missing. It was insane. If memory serves there were some special effects, which seemed all the more special by their rarity.

Again, this was not the planned release, only a work cut- the director’s ideal version would have had music and special effects. But purely by accident, this version was incredible, and perfectly appropriate for the source material. A key element of Lovecraft’s fiction is that the narrators are not trustworthy, or to be specific, the narrators themselves don’t trust their own senses. They are confronted with something so outside of their frame of reference that they absolutely cannot make sense of it- the only thing they can do is try the best they can to refuse to try. By tapping out for the most extraordinary parts of the narrative, the movie (as I saw it) presented the best adaptation possible.

Incidentally, this is why I hate the Lovecraft fandom- the perfect thing about these stories is that they refuse to look closely at the monster. The fandom is mostly about looking directly at the monster. It sucks. Character design was not Lovecraft’s strongpoint, and glimpsing the monster without being able to look right at it is way scarier anyway.

Anyway, that was the movie. The book is also cool and creepy and scary and gross and fun, and takes place in my neighborhood. Parts of it were almost in the building where I lived when I read it, right after I moved to this city. I remember reading it and feeling pulled along with a feeling of mounting excitement and dread. But it also had a feeling of homework. Like, if I had moved to Concord instead of Providence I’d be reading Emerson, or if I had moved to Northhampton I’d be immersing myself in Dinosaur Jr.

The Pinch Of Ginger If Not Salt that all Lovecraft writing requires is: Lovecraft (the guy) was a racist whose racism charted above the baseline of an already racist era and location. I can’t think of an instance where this is the foreground of a story, these beliefs, but it’s not uncommon for a narrator to drop an occational invective against “mongrel races”, and that sort of shit can still sting. Since nearly all Lovecraft narrators are weak weaselly shitbags, that changes the power dynamic a little– you’re already set against sympathizing with them so their shittiness is less destructive and can even convey the opposite, like how a bad Yelp review from clearly a bad person is a positive review to a careful reader. But it isn’t my place to say that such invective is No Big Deal. I feel like many of these instances could easily be translated into strictly class-based hatred with pretty much nothing lost, but doing this translation internally is easier for some people than others and takes energy that not everyone wants to exert.

I think I got this book from the free pile outside the Worcester Public Library. It’s a paperback with that adhesive plastic cover that libraries use, stamped WORCESTER PUBLIC LIBRARY and DISCARD, and the cover is half-detached. The cover is just a pile of skulls and an art noveau font, pretty sick! It looks like that 3 Six Mafia “pile of green skulls” shirt, but not green obviously, and not worn by an Oscar-winning rap group. That shirt was ubiquitous in 2005, I bet if you wore one now thirtysomethings only would yell I HAD THAT SHIRT at you from cars. Can you even get that shirt anymore? This book was published by Ballantine / Del Ray, in 1971, this one is the eighth printing, 1987. $2.95 cover price would be $6.39 today. Read with a pinch of salt and detest the narrator.

Here’s a trailer to the official release of the movie, it stars Chris “Prince Humperdink” Sarandon, the guy you (I) love to hate: [link]. The whole movie’s on YouTube as well but I honestly have no idea if it’s good as it is. It’s probably fun, or it’s fun if you think it seems fun. It’s probably pretty much as it seems.

Happy Halloween!

                                                                                                 

Norstrilia, by Cordwainer Smith

September 28, 2017 4:26 pm by Crocodile

Norstrilia
By Cordwainer Smith

There’s a few things notable about sci fi novelist Cordwainer Smith- the first is that he helped organize the Army’s first psychological warfare section, and literally wrote the book on psychological warfare (“Psychological Warfare”, 1948). the second is that many of his stories are set in the same universe at different points in the timeline, though not necessarily with overlapping characters. The third and most unusual thing is that he might be the real “Kirk Allen”, a psychiatric patient mentioned in Robert M Lindner’s essay for Harpers, “the Jet-Propelled Couch“. Here’s a summary of the relevant parts of the essay, via wikipedia:

[he] became obsessed with a series of novels, the protagonist of which shared his name.

“Allen” attended University, and became a scientist, working with the United States Military on a classified research project during World War II, which helped to bring about the war’s end. Meanwhile, convinced that the novels were his personal biography, he “filled in” many omitted details from the novels, from his own “recollection”. He was incredibly thorough, creating full-color maps, sketches, a glossary of names and terms, socio-economic data, etcetera. In his own words:

“My first effort, then, was to remember. I started by fixing in my mind, and later on paper in the forms of maps, genealogical tables, and so on, what the author of my biography had put down. When I had this mastered, by remembering I was able to correct his errors, fill in many details, and close gaps between one volume of the biography and the next.”

Eventually, he reached the outer limits of the scope of the novels, and began to “recall” his/the character’s further adventures. He even began to hallucinate being in the various settings of his stories, physically experiencing them. Soon, his employers became aware of his psychotic condition, and demanded that he get psychiatric treatment. Reluctantly, he conceded. His psychoanalyst was Lindner, who would eventually write a popular case-study of Allen. Lindner eventually cured Allen, by immersing himself in the fantasy world, but in the process became himself obsessed.

the argument that Smith is Allen is not perfect but strong (links are at the end of the post). If it’s true, then there’s further speculation as to whether this book, “Norstrilia” is a story he remembered/hallucinated or one he invented willfully. It’s also possible that the world, or some aspect of it, was fully formed in his head, and then he invented a simple character to move through it. Honestly, that’s probably how most genre fiction works.

I didn’t finish this one, and in fact I didn’t get far, because it suffers the fate of too many stories I’m picking up nowadays, in that it relies on one of its characters being extremely rich to advance the plot. I understand why you write a wealthy protagonist- they have the means to support a narrative. They don’t have to work, and they have nearly infinite resources at their disposal. But it’s a pretty lazy move on the writer’s part, and it increases empathy for a set of people who are among the worst on earth. I don’t want to hear about a cool rich person! Rich people are why human life on earth (right now) is miserable for so many people!

Nova by Samuel Delaney had this problem. Batman has this problem. Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sort of had that problem but they solved it by making the rich guy an idiotic charismatic psychopath. I’m not going to make an exhaustive list of stories that have this problem, that’s not useful. But I’d like to say to any writers out there reading me: stop doing this! It sucks.

This book is the first press (!) from 1975, although it’s composed of two stories that were previously published, in 1964 and 1968. Cordwainer Smith died in 1966 so there’s no way to fact check the cover- if that’s what the monkey doctor really looked like, we’ll never know. The cover says $1.50, that’s $6.86 in 2017. I don’t really remember where I got this or what I paid, but I think it came from Chris Cooper’s yard sale. Or maybe we just talked about it?

Also, to be clear: even though this novel had what to me is a fatal flaw, I was enjoying it, and I bet I would like some of his other stuff. And although the Kirk Allen stuff is interesting, the rest of Cordwainer Smith’s life is very interesting too! His IRL name (or what I’d call his “walking around name”) was Paul Linebarger, and other AKAs included Lin Bai-lo and Felix C Forrest. Lin Bai-lo is a name he received from his Chinese godfather Sun Yat-Sen, the first president and founding father of the Republic of China (!). Lin Bai-Lo translates as “Forest of Incandescent Bliss”- Felix C Forrest is an approximate translation into American namespace, “felix” being Latin for “happy” (as in “felicity”). “Cordwainer Smith” was his sci-fi name- a cordwainer is a leatherworker, a smith is a blacksmith. A feeling of handiwork, and things made on purpose. For deeper info see the Cordwainer Smith Scholarly Corner.

You can read the original Harper’s essay “the Jet Propelled Couch” here: [link]

For more about the connection between Allen and Smith, see “Behind the Jet-Propelled Couch“.

Here’s a video of Chris Cooper, he’s the best!!!!

                                                                                                 
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