Archive for Fredric Brown

Everything Else

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2018 by dcairns

“When you think about it, the entire history of literature is nothing more than people coming in and out of doors. Whereas science fiction is about EVERYTHING ELSE.” I went looking for this Ken Campbell quote to see which science fiction author he was quoting in turn, but all I found was John Briggs’ Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century, which attributes it directly to Campbell. I don’t think that’s right. John Brunner? Brian Aldiss?

My pulpy proclivities saw me reading almost exclusively science fiction as a teenager, but I got off that and onto crime later. Better prose. And into Wodehouse, a genre in himself. But I still have sympathy for the view that science fiction is the true literature of ideas. Lately I’ve been delving into SF anthologies and into David Pringle’s Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels, in search of mind-bending story ideas in concentrated form, with the idea of later pursuing leads, hunting down the novels of the scribes who impress me most in short form.

I mentioned Connie Willis before, in passing. She’s great – the ideas are certainly there (lots of time travel stuff) but she doesn’t shirk from the human, the emotional. The short story Chance, in The Legend Book of Science Fiction (ed. Gardner Dozois) moved me to tears. I’m not sure it’s really science fiction — more like a Kafkaesque extrusion of fantasy into a realistically-drawn story-world — but it’s just so damn sad. Even the amazingly happy ending is desperately bleak.

As part of my crime reading, I’d tried an Ellery Queen paperback found in a charity shop, The Player on the Other Side, which turned out to be actually written by Theodore Sturgeon, more usually a sci-fi guy. I’d read his excellent More Than Human decades back. He’s one of the best prose writers in genre fiction, so he not only comes up with arresting ideas, but he has the descriptive powers to do them justice. The Other Celia is anthologised a lot  I believe it turned up in one of the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine anthologies I acquired recently. Sturgeon also wrote two Star Trek episodes, which I mention merely because it seems remarkable now that a sci-fi TV show would seek out practitioners in the field as writers. God knows, the movies didn’t do so very often.

I think Sturgeon defined SF as, “A story with a scientific problem and a human solution.”

Another Star Trek writer, in a way, was my man Fredric Brown, whose story Arena was adapted so we could all enjoy the spectacle of Shatner wrestling with a lizard man. Brown does have a weakness for Federation-like interstellar hegemonies, though in his fiction these are as likely to be militaristic and evil as they are good. I slightly prefer Brown’s crime writing, where the wild ideas stand out as more exceptional, more out-of-place, but the story Come and Go Mad, ending with the line “Nothing matters!” delivered in a kind of lunatic shriek, is just extraordinary. Like Philip K. Dick or Cornell Woolrich, Brown strikes me as a writer continually on the verge of breakdown, which always makes things interesting.

I thought I read some Samuel R. Delany years ago, but it was actually some Clifford Simak — I have no idea why I confused the two, Delany is the better writer, though both are good. Driftglass, in the Dozois anthology again, sets up a fascinating future with surgically altered amphibious humans, only to play out a story that’s kind of Hawksian, only bleaker. “I’m a clumsy cripple, I step all over everybody’s emotions.” The great news is there’s LOTS more Delany for me to catch up on. Another one who writes great sentences.

I read two by Cordwainer Smith (the pseudonym of psychological warfare expert Dr. Paul M.A. Linebarger — his nom de plume encompasses two varieties of shoemaker), Mother Hitton’s Littul Kittons — a story you just HAVE to read, in order to find out what the hell that title is about — but the answer disappointed me — and Scanners Live in Vain, which is rip-roaring space opera with a hellish dystopian angle. Probably an anti-commie tract, but mind-blowing, grim, ridiculous, epic. Most all of Smith’s fiction takes place in a far-future space empire called The Instrumentality, so as world-building it’s of great interest — I admire the obsessiveness.

Robert Silverberg’s The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol 1, 1929-1964 is full of goodies. I was really impressed by the early entries, such as Stanley G. Weinbaum’s A Martian Odyssey, which effortlessly combines Hawksian manly adventure on the red planet with a curiosity and sense of mystery about alien intelligence and culture.  The astronauts we meet are of various nations, but all male — the genre of thinking forward wasn’t always forward-thinking. But they’re such affable fellows! And it was 1929. The patriarchal view seems less defensible in the fifties stuff, but I found I liked the one John W. Campbell story I read better than I expected to. Campbell, of course, wrote Who Goes There?, the one SF story to actually attract Howard Hawks as co-adaptor, resulting in THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD. Twilight has poetry to it, as well as an epic space-time scale, as well as a tall-tale/urban legend framing structure, with the yarn related by a mysterious hitch-hiker, that adds a strange resonance.

“Jim claims he doesn’t believe the yarn, you know. But he does; that’s why he always acts so determined about it when he says the stranger wasn’t an ordinary man. No, he wasn’t, I guess. I think he lived and died, too, probably sometime in the thirty-first century. And I think he saw the twilight of the race, too.”

The best character in Anthony Boucher’s The Quest for Saint Aquin is a talking robot ass. This one is a kind of post-atomic pastorale, a popular sub-genre, with the church driven underground by a fascist technocracy. Religious science fiction is a distinct sub-genre too, I guess: this has certain traits in common with John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids (a favourite) and Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. I relate more to Wyndham, where the faith is an oppressive force.

Damon Knight’s The Country of the Kind — I had read this before, or maybe only part of it? (Who the hell gives up on a short story?) It’s excellent, if unlikely. I seem to confuse Damon Knight with Thomas Disch, whose Camp Concentration is a piece of terrific. The finale of Knight’s tale of a shunned psychopath somehow makes a call to random violence seem both inspirational and touching — it’s not seductive, it doesn’t make you want to be violent or suggest that the author is in favour of such things — it just shows you how, from a different perspective, such emotions could attach themselves where you wouldn’t think they belonged. Paradigms explode. Your mind is expanded, the way it ought to be by good SF.

Knight also wrote To Serve Man, famously adapted by Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. The head-spinning paradigm shift in its purest form.

I have too many authors to choose from now, but nevertheless, hit my with your recommendations.

 

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Head On

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , on August 14, 2018 by dcairns

There are two lines of attack here —

  1. CRACK-UP is directed by Irving Reis — I watched all his FALCON films with George Sanders but didn’t particularly find him noteworthy. Then I saw ENCHANTMENT, photographed by Gregg Toland, and found it revelatory, experimental, and very impressive all round. It goes in and out of flashback all in one shot and it’s narrated by a house. I think that gives you an idea.
  2. CRACK-UP is “suggested by” a novella, Madman’s Holiday, by Fredric Brown. Brown wrote lots of sci-fi and crime — the SF is collected and can be got for a song on Kindle, but most of the crime stuff, like this one, is uncollected and a bit tricky or expensive to obtain. But, without having read the story, I can say that the movie seems to capture some of Brown’s demented inventiveness and delirium.

SIDEBAR — I chanced on a big stack of Alfred Hitchcock paperbacks — short stories culled from the Master’s Mystery Magazine, including some rare Donald Westlakes, plus Gerald Kersh, Ross McDonald, Jon Stephen Benet and one Brown, entitled Don’t Look Behind You.

“Try to enjoy this; it’s going to be the last story you ever read, or nearly the last.”

The jist of this paranoid tale of torture and insanity is that the author, a demented forger turned serial killer, has planted this story into this book JUST for you, because you’re his randomly selected victim and he wants to give you fair warning before he pounces. If you read the story late at night, you might actually half-believe it and find yourself scanning the dark corners of the room for the crouching assassin.

CRACK-UP has amnesia, art fraud, sodium pentathol, a gratuitous dwarf joke and lots of noir delirium (the best kind) ~

This clip will seem to be going on much too long, but that’s part of the appeal. Stick with it. As it goes on, and on, you’ll find yourself unable to believe Hollywood produced something so bizarrely distended, so obviously WRONG by the normal rules of the game.

Reis, THE BACHELOR AND THE BOBBYSOXER apart, seems a real experimentalist.

Starring Hildy Johnson, Helen Grayle/Velma Valento, Gaston Monescu, Jack Amberson and Phroso the Clown.

 

 

The Haul

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , on June 16, 2018 by dcairns

My support of Leith’s charity shops may be getting out of hand. This is the result of a single traipse up Leith Walk, stopping in at eight or so shops. I don’t think anything cost over a pound. Still, if I added up my month’s outgoings I might get a shock.

The stack of Hitchcock paperbacks, many of them stamped with the marks of defunct second-hand bookshops I frequented in my youth, contain stories by favourites Gerald Kersh, Donald Westlake, Frederic Brown and others. I only bought a third of the stock. I may have to go back for the others, though, if they’re still there.

I won’t keep everything here — I can imagine myself watching WALL STREET — morbid curiosity, I’ve never seen it — and then giving it away. But then, I can imagine myself never watching it, which would mean I’d be stuck with it, eating up shelf space.

I’d been looking for copies of THE GODFATHER films for ages, and they turn up fairly frequently, but always scratched. These ones seem to be in good nick, so I now have the complete set — I and II.

The other day I went out specially for a copy of Nic Roeg’s THE WITCHES because I’d realised I didn’t own it and The Shadow Trap podcast made me want to revisit it, or at least the opening scenes. I came back with nine films.