Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Home -- A Fragment

     Just a short fragment that came out of a couple of mornings of scribbling a while back.  One of these eons I may actually find a place for it, as is or reworked, in a longer piece.  But I don't think it reads too badly on its own, so until I find that other place for it...


     You know how it is when you find some place that is so right for you that it whispers "Home," whispers it so deep inside that you feel it rather than hear it, and maybe the place doesn't say it to anyone else, just you.
     Maybe it whispers to you but not to your wife, and eventually she leaves, and maybe you go with her but maybe you don't because here in this place you're finally home, where you were always meant to be.  Or maybe you're twelve and it whispers to you but not to your parents and they move and of course you have to move with them and you never really forget that and even if you don't talk about it later it rubs at you for years.  But it isn't only places that whisper that way.  It isn't only place that is home.  Sometimes you meet someone or just see somebody for a moment in passing and inside you is that sudden voice saying, "Home."  Or you find the work you were meant to do, something that’s so right that you can’t imagine doing anything else, something that’s more to you than just a way to pay the bills.
     You see thousands of people going by in the street every day and maybe you wonder how many of them are just marking time, listening for that whisper, how many of them will die without ever hearing it and never thinking about what they might have missed, how many of them heard it once and missed their chance at it and dream of little else other than hearing it again.

     He was nineteen and it was a warm day in mid-June, cloudless and not too windy.  He got off the bus at the corner of Michigan and Chicago on his way to Stuart Brent's book store, and he saw her for a moment as she boarded that same bus.  Tall and slim and brunette, and her eyes met his, just for an instant, and deep inside him: "Home."  But he had stepped off the bus and the doors closed and the moment passed and the bus pulled away, and he knew that he could catch it again at the next stop if he ran because he could still run when he was nineteen, but the light changed in his moment of hesitation and before it changed back the bus was two blocks ahead of him and he'd never catch it now.
     For the next three weeks, he made it a point to be at that bus stop every morning around that time, but he did not see her again.
     That year at college, he met a lovely girl, also tall and slim and brunette, who reminded him a great deal of the girl he'd seen boarding the Michigan Avenue bus, and during that year he fell in love with her and she with him, and after graduation they married and had four children, and like any married couple they had their ups and downs but for the most part they lived happily ever after, and one reason they lived happily ever after was that they were smart enough to avoid dark places.
     So when she had the feeling that there was something in him that he kept locked securely away, she left it alone and did not press him to reveal anything he did not choose to reveal.  And when he allowed himself his two-in-the-morning reflections on the state of his life, and found himself thinking of a girl getting on the Michigan Avenue bus one June morning, and remembering that voice saying, "Home," a voice he had not heard again since that morning, he kept those reflections to himself.
     For her part, she had heard that voice several times, but never in connection with another person.  For her it had been associated with places.  The summer when she was fourteen, the family had taken her mother's dream vacation and spent a month visiting England and France, renting cars or taking the trains to get around, and renting cottages or staying at local bed-and-breakfasts rather than hotels.  In a few of the cottages, she'd heard that voice and she knew that one day she'd live in rooms like these.  After she married, she didn't live in an English cottage, but she did what she could to recreate some of the feel of one in the apartments and later the house they lived in.  Sometimes in her own two-in-the-morning reflections she thought about that fourteenth summer and wondered what life might have been like if she'd chosen a course that took her out of the midwest and back to Europe, back to England, and if she might have been able to find a place where that voice was always there for her, rather than hoping to hear it in the imitation she had made.
     And so their days passed, and their months, and their years, and they told themselves that they were happy with the way things had turned out, and if sometimes they felt that they had really been meant to be with someone else or in some other place, well, who didn't feel that way now and then?
     One evening he read a magazine article that discussed the ever-more-mobile population, all the people changing jobs, moving to other cities or other states or even other countries, and he wondered how many of them were really looking for a girl they'd seen getting on the Michigan Avenue bus or getting off the elevator or passing by a restaurant window.  He wondered how many of them were really straining to hear that voice.
     One afternoon as she pulled some weeds in a corner of her garden, she wondered if trying to achieve some semblance of those wonderful fourteenth-summer places was only inviting dissatisfaction with the place she had actually made for herself.  She had a pleasant house, a husband and children she loved, and while she'd had the occasional fleeting thought of walking away from all of it and getting on a plane and finding a place where that voice might whisper to her again, she did not give serious thought to leaving.  Perfection, after all, was unattainable.
     They both lived into their eighties and they died within six months of each other, with their children close by, and neither of them said a word to the other, ever, about the idea that they had been meant to be with different people in different places.  That was something they kept locked away, well out of sight, because having that out in the open could only bring trouble, and because perfection, after all, was unattainable.

     Anyway, that's how it was for them.  How it is for you, only you can say.  As for me -- well, I'm a stranger here myself.


copyright 2016 by Anthony J. Rabig

Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Golden Age Memory from the Library Sale Tables

   It's been said that the golden age of science fiction is twelve.  The golden age of a lot of things is probably twelve, or maybe thirteen.  Which brings me to yesterday afternoon's visit to the local library's sale table.
   Back in the late Cretaceous when I was thirteen, when you still found paperbacks priced at 35 cents and I was starting to use the deposit money from empty Pepsi bottles to buy paperback books instead of comics, one of the goodies that turned up on the racks at the local pharmacy was a wonderfully demented humor title by Jack Douglas called My Brother Was an Only Child.  A slim volume of 47 chapters, most only a page or two in length, with titles like "The Boy Who Cried Dinosaur," "Six G-Strings in Search of an Old Violin Named Charlie (a Play by Tennessee Gleckle)," "The Year the Locusts Came," "How to Train an Aardvark," and "The Private Mitty of Walter Thurber."  I laughed my kazoosis off all the way through it.
   So what should turn up on the sale table yesterday afternoon?  For a quarter?  In hardcover with dust jacket?  In very good condition?  Yep -- a copy of My Brother Was an Only Child.  And right next to it, a copy of the next book by Douglas, Never Trust a Naked Bus Driver.  Need I say I grabbed 'em both?
   The last time Douglas was prominently in print, if memory serves, was in the late 70s and early 80s, when Pocket Books reissued most of his titles within the space of a year.  The two already mentioned along with Shut Up and Eat Your Snowshoes, The Neighbors Are Scaring My Wolf, A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Grave, and a few more.  According to his Wikipedia entry, Douglas died in 1989; he'd worked in radio and television, writing for Red Skelton, Bob Hope, Jack Paar, Woody Allen, Laugh-In and others, and he took an Emmy for comedy writing in 1954.  Not a bad list of credits at all.
   Is My Brother Was an Only Child still funny?  Yep; one Amazon reviewer noted that it's probably funnier if you're thirteen, and I think that's true, but as of yesterday, more than fifty years since I was that age, the book still does it for me.  Never Trust a Naked Bus Driver, not so much -- but My Brother Was an Only Child is still a delight.
   Naturally, I had baser motives than simple pleasure in buying those two volumes -- last time I ran across a copy of My Brother Was an Only Child (in much poorer condition than yesterday's catch), I bought it for half a buck and sold it on Amazon for $10.  What did I find when I checked current availability to see what kind of obscene profit I could make?  A publisher with the unlikely handle of Pickle Partners Publishing has brought out a Kindle edition of My Brother Was an Only Child and you can snag an ebook copy of your own for $5.  Recommended for all you thirteen year old boys out there who never quite grew up.

   And here's the link: My Brother Was an Only Child

   (Pickle Partners has a lot of listings in the Kindle store, most of them military history and personal narratives (among them Robert Leckie's A Helmet for My Pillow and Heinz Guderian's Panzer Leader); their non-military offerings include Helene Hanff's Underfoot in Show Business, Manly Wade Wellman's fantasy classic Who Fears the Devil?, and more.  Worth a look.)
   Now if only somebody would do an ebook of another warped delight from my golden age, Max Rezwin's The Best of Sick Jokes.  My copy's falling apart.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


That time travel novel I mentioned in my last post is available now for $2.99 in the Kindle store.  It's called Doorways.  Here are the links for the US and UK:
US Kindle store
UK Kindle store

And the description:

   "Time travel's possible, Dennis. I know, because I've done it from right here in this room."
   Dennis Marcher thought he was simply visiting college friends, seeing again the place he'd met the girl he married.
   What he found was a doorway into the past. A doorway that would let them revisit some of their happiest days. A doorway that could let them go back to stay. A doorway that might let them change their pasts for the better.
   Some doors shouldn't be opened.

Now, if you like your novels long, please note that this one's on the short side at 44,000 words.  (Minimum length for a novel in the Nebula award categories is 40,000 words, which if memory serves is about right for one side of the old Ace Double paperbacks.)  Check it out if you get a chance.

And if you don't get a chance, I hope it's because you're engrossed in other recently issued ebooks like these:
Rogue Moon, by Algis Budrys
The Hyde Hotel, edited by James Everington & Dan Howarth
Got to Kill Them All & Other Stories, by Dennis Etchison
Can & Can'tankerous, by Harlan Ellison
All of them good reading & well worth a look.

Friday, October 30, 2015

A Smidgen of News, An Earlier Story Free This Weekend, and a Ton of Peter Beagle Coming as Ebooks

     Long time no post.  During that time, I've pretty well scrapped a novel I'd been tinkering with for eons.  (May try to salvage some of it later, as there are a couple of characters in it that I'd like to find homes for one of these days.)  Having scrapped that project, I tried another novel.  It's a time-travel story and it still needs some work, but I'm hoping to have it ready some time in January.  There are a couple of new short stories in the works too.  So I might actually have a few new titles out there in the Kindle store soon.

     Of the titles that are currently out there, one will be free this Halloween weekend -- my short ghost story "They're Waiting" is free in the Amazon Kindle store Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  If you haven't read it already, either as a single or in my collection THE OTHER IRON RIVER, AND OTHER STORIES, check it out this weekend while the price is right.  Find the free story at: They're Waiting-ebook

     Speaking of good Halloween reading, check out the following big collections of horror stories: Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, a classic anthology from Modern Library; The Dark Descent, edited by David Hartwell; The Arbor House Treasury of Horror and the Supernatural, edited by Bill Pronzini, Barry Malzberg, and Martin Greenberg; The Weird, edited by Jeff and Ann VanDerMeer.  Huge collections all, each one covering  decades of work in the horror field, and there isn't nearly as much overlap between them as you might expect.  Of these, only The Weird is available as an ebook -- the others are print only, and the Arbor House Treasury is out-of-print (but well worth looking for).

     Finally, on November 1, a five-foot shelf of Peter Beagle's work will be released in ebook formats.  Included will be the novels The Last Unicorn and A Fine & Private Place, as well as a number of terrific short story collections such as Lila the Werewolf & Other Tales and We Never Talk About My Brother.  Good stuff.  Check the list at: Peter Beagle ebooks in Kindle Store

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Almost (Though Not Quite) An Essential Harlan Ellison

     In 1987, Nemo Press published a huge (huge? an understatement) volume called The Essential Ellison, a 35-year retrospective of Harlan Ellison's work.  Stories.  Essays.  A screenplay.  A later edition updated that book, covering 50 years of his writing.
     That book is now out of print, but Subterranean Press has just released The Top of the Volcano: the Award-Winning Stories of Harlan Ellison, a superb selection of Ellison's short fiction -- it's not quite an essential Ellison, but if you've never read his fiction before this is a great place to start.
     Every story in this book is an award-winner, and Ellison's won a LOT of awards -- there are 23 stories here covering most of his career.  These stories have received science fiction's Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Poll awards, the Mystery Writers of America Edgar award, the Horror Writers of America Bram Stoker award, and more.  In this book, you'll find Ellison at the top of his game, and it just doesn't get better than that (and if it does, well, as John Wayne said in Rio Bravo, "I'd hate to have to live on the difference").

     So why do I say this is almost, but not quite, an essential Ellison?  Because one of this book's strengths is also a weakness when it comes to assembling an "Essential" or "Best of" volume of a writer like Ellison, who has written in so many areas.  The fact that all these stories are prize-winners means that you're getting stories that readers and writers declared best in their class in those years; it also means that powerful work done in areas where such awards were not being given simply isn't included.  With a book as strong as this one, that's a minor quibble.  As I said, if you've never read his fiction before, this is a great place to start -- just bear in mind that you won't want to stop here.  

     Unlike most of Ellison's collections, The Top of the Volcano contains no new introduction, no notes on the selections.  The fiction stands alone.  Other reviewers have noted that this is perhaps as it should be.  While author introductions and comments are part of nearly all his books, the stories are the point.  The Top of the Volcano is straight Ellison fiction, and nothing else.

     So, what's in The Top of the Volcano?  Here's the table of contents:

‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman
I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream
The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World
A Boy and His Dog
The Region Between
The Deathbird
The Whimper of Whipped Dogs
Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans: Latitude 38° 54’ N, Longitude 77° 00’ 13” W
Jeffty is Five
Count the Clock That Tells the Time
Djinn, No Chaser
Paladin of the Lost Hour
With Virgil Oddum at the East Pole
Soft Monkey
The Function of Dream Sleep
The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore
Mefisto in Onyx
Chatting with Anubis
The Human Operators with A.E. Van Vogt
How Interesting: A Tiny Man

     Now, if you know Harlan Ellison's work at all, that list is all you need to make this book an immediate purchase; if you don't, be aware that The Top of the Volcano contains stories that will chill your blood and others that will break your heart (and some that will do both), and even the oldest stories here ("Repent, Harlequin!" and "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream") remain as fresh and new and compelling as they were the day they were first published.  This is fiction made to last, by one of the great short story writers of our time.

     Speaking of made to last, Subterranean Press does a terrific job on its books, and the hardcover edition of The Top of the Volcano is a thing of beauty.  Get a description at: http://subterraneanpress.com/store/product_detail/the_top_of_the_volcano_the_award_winning_stories_of_harlan_ellison

     And in case you don't already have some idea of Ellison's range, check out the titles listed at: http://www.openroadmedia.com/harlan-ellison

Friday, January 23, 2015

And More Rod Serling and Gerald Kersh Reissues

     A year ago, I posted some comments on ebook reissues of titles by the late great Rod Serling; collections of his Twilight Zone and Night Gallery adaptations were available and so was his collection of novellas The Season to Be Wary.  In closing I wrote:

     "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."

     And that's happening.  Patterns, that collection of four plays for television, has been reissued.  So has Requiem for a Heavyweight.  The original television script for "Requiem" is included in both these volumes, but anyone interested in Serling's work will want to pick up both of these in spite of that duplication.  The ebook Requiem for a Heavyweight is a reissue of the Bantam paperback movie tie-in and it includes not only the original script but a "reading version" blending the original and the feature film scripts; Mark Olshaker notes in his introduction that the reading version is something of a hybrid between a novel and a screen treatment, and that's true.  Further, in his blending of the original teleplay and the feature film script, Serling included material that (to my knowledge) didn't make it into the final cut of the film version, and it's dynamite material.  Even if you've read the teleplay and seen the movie version often enough to be able to quote scenes from memory, you'll want to check out this reissue.
     Another nice thing about the reissues of Patterns and Requiem for a Heavyweight -- their Amazon listings note that these are books one and two of the early works.  Which implies that more are coming, and that is welcome news indeed.

     Valancourt Books has released two more collections of Gerald Kersh stories: On an Odd Note, and Clock Without Hands.  If you've not yet read Kersh, you're missing the work of one of the great 20th century storytellers.  Unavailable for years, a number of his books have been brought back into print (Valancourt's done some and Faber has reissued others).  The newest reissue, Clock Without Hands, contains in the title story an amazing bit of description that I first saw more than 40 years ago in Harlan Ellison's introduction to Kersh's Nightshade and Damnations (also available now from Valancourt).  Look at this:

     "A man has a shape; a crowd has no shape and no color. The massed faces of a hundred thousand men make one blank pallor; their clothes add up to a shadow; they have no words. This man might have been one hundred-thousandth part of the featureless whiteness, the dull grayness, and the toneless murmuring of a docile multitude. He was something less than non-descript —he was blurred, without identity, like a smudged fingerprint. His suit was of some dim shade between brown and gray. His shirt had gray-blue stripes, his tie was patterned with dots like confetti trodden into the dust, and his oddment of limp brownish mustache resembled a cigarette butt, disintegrating shred by shred in a tea-saucer."

     And the rest of that story is every bit as good as that description.  Trust me on this.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Late to the Party Again

    Any reader of horror fiction probably checked out the work of Thomas Ligotti years ago.
    Any reader of horror fiction except me, that is.  I read Ligotti for the first time just a few nights ago.  I knew he was out there, of course, but he was just another one of the multitude of writers I hadn't read yet.
    Then I picked up his latest ebook release, DEATH POEMS.  It's just what it sounds like -- a collection of poems dealing with death and mortality.  It's a short book, and if you're one of those who looks at the ratio of page count to price, maybe you'd be inclined to pass it by, but you shouldn't skip this one.  The selections here are lean and mean and very dark.  One Amazon reviewer noted that it might be a good idea to avoid this book if you're given to depression.  Usually I write such comments off as hyperbole, but in this case maybe not.  There is some awfully grim work here -- I'm thinking in particular of "Writing Home," the piece that closes the book, but there are several others just as dark as the closer.
    If you're already a fan of Ligotti's fiction, you'll probably want this book even if you don't usually care for poetry -- a number of these poems read like short stories stripped down to the shortest possible length, among them "Memento," "The Note," "Voices," and "Writing Home."
    Finally, there are a number of poems here that are not only dark but almost laugh-out-loud funny as well ("Hospital" and "Birthday" for instance) -- though that depends on just how dark your sense of humor happens to be.
    In Barry Malzberg's THE ENGINES OF THE NIGHT, there's a short essay on the last days of the great noir writer Cornell Woolrich, with a quote from Woolrich near the end: "Life is death.  Death is in life.  To hold your own true love in your arms and see the skeleton she will be; to know that your love leads to death, that death is all there is, that is what I know and what I do not want to know and what I cannot bear."  Now, that's bleak.  Ligotti's DEATH POEMS approach that bleakness, and maybe even surpass it a bit in some of the poems -- Woolrich, nearing the end, recoils from that vision, but I don't get the impression that Ligotti recoils from it at all, at least not yet.
    And Ligotti's other books go to the Amazing Colossal To-Be-Read Pile.

    Speaking of noir...
    I suffer from what might be called New Management Aversion Syndrome.  Say you've been going to the same bakery for years, and the head guy retires, and the family keeps it running and it's still good but it's not quite the same.  Maybe the new management isn't even trying to be the same, but you can't get around the awareness that the bakery's different now.
    So Joe Hill's horror fiction doesn't do it for me the way Stephen King's does.  Peter Leonard's suspense novels don't do it for me the way Elmore Leonard's did.  Ditto a few others.
    Which brings me to Trent Zelazny.
    I started noticing his name out there a couple of years ago, and deliberately stayed clear.  I was and am an admirer of Roger Zelazny's science fiction and fantasy, and didn't want to find a favorite restaurant open under new management and not quite the same.  So for a long time I stayed clear.
    That was a major dumb on my part, because Trent Zelazny's not working the same street; he's writing noir.  His new novel, VOICELESS, moves like a bullet and so does the previous novel TOO LATE TO CALL TEXAS -- both are fast-paced dark delights; I'm a few chapters into his novel DESTINATION UNKNOWN and so far it looks like the same can be said for that book as well.  Shorter works such as "Shadowboxer," "People Person," and "Fractal Despondency" are just as strong.  For too long a time, I avoided his work -- he's now one of the writers whose books I'll pre-order the day I see them listed.
    Trent Zelazny has reviewed a couple of David Goodis's books on Amazon, and said in one of those reviews that if he hadn't found Goodis he wouldn't be writing the stories he's writing now.  There are echoes of Goodis in his work, I think; of Woolrich too.  And now and then it seems to me there's a faint flavor of the non-series titles of John D. MacDonald and Bill Pronzini.  That's not to say he's an imitator -- he isn't -- but he's from the same neighborhood, and it's a terrific neighborhood to be from.
    If you enjoy noir fiction, if you've been thinking that they just don't write 'em like that any more, if you've enjoyed Goodis and Woolrich and Lansdale, take a look at Trent Zelazny's work.  I don't think you'll be disappointed -- this guy's good.