Thursday, February 25, 2021

Alfred Hitchcock Mystery/Horror Anthologies

Last week I wrote about the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators series, but there were some other books, released around the same time, that were also important to me, and which had a lot in common with the Three Investigators books. These also had Alfred Hitchcock's name on them and his likeness on the cover (and in some of the internal illustrations), though Hitchcock actually had nothing to do with them; many of them were edited by Robert Arthur, creator of the Three Investigators and author of the first nine books in the series; and they were published by Random House for the young reading audience.

Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Gallery and Alfred Hitchcock's Haunted Houseful (and several others, including Sinister Spies, Daring Detectives, and Monster Museum--all with Alfred Hitchcock's before the title proper) weren't novels, they were short story collections, and included stories by many of the greats of the mystery and horror fields, such as Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, H.P. Lovecraft, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, Theodore Sturgeon, Ray Bradbury, Manly Wade Wellman, and many others. As I've already said, many of them were edited by Robert Arthur ("The editor [presumably a reference to Hitchcock] gratefully acknowledges the invaluable assistance of Robert Arthur in the preparation of this volume" says Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Gallery at the beginning of the copyright section, though Alfred Hitchcock's Haunted Houseful acknowledges Muriel Fuller), and Arthur often included a story of his own in the Table of Contents--and his stories were very good; Random House also published an excellent collections of Arthur's stories(Mystery and More Mystery, which has no mention of Alfred Hitchcock on it, but is otherwise much like the above mentioned anthologies).

These are really great books, and I'm glad I had them when I was a kid--though, honestly, the cover (actually more the back cover than the front) of Alfred Hitchcock's Ghostly Gallery (which I got as a birthday or Christmas present when I was about eight; I got the whole book as a present, I mean, not just the cover) scared the bejeebers out of me when I was young. Many of the stories are great, but so are the illustrations.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

The Three Investigators

These are the books that made me fall in love with reading and books, forty-five years ago.

When I say that, I mean that these are literally the books--these actual copies--that I started reading in 1975, thanks to my cousin Sharon (who, I am very sorry to say, is no longer here with us for me to thank for starting me off in this direction), and which I collected and read and re-read voraciously for several years, and which I've had as an important part of my personal library for nearly half a century.

The series--Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators--was created by Robert Arthur in 1964; he wrote the first nine books, and also the eleventh, and when he died in 1969, the series was continued by various other writers for almost two decades more, ultimately reaching forty-three volumes. (It's actually a little more complicated than that, but that's enough of an explanation for this post.) Alfred Hitchcock didn't really have anything to do with the series, he just allowed his name and likeness to be used in the books. The Hitchcock introductions to the books were in truth written by the books' authors, and when Hitchcock died in 1980, the series switched from the real (but no longer living) Hitchcock to the fictional mystery novelist Hector Sebastian. Gradually, all of the original series was revised and republished to feature Sebastian instead of Hitchcock.

The first sixteen books included great illustrations by Harry Kane; those illustrations are an important part of what made me love the books. I'm still disappointed that more novels don't feature illustrations every thirty or forty pages to show you what everything looks like. (Frankly, The Brothers Karamazov could do with a few. If it had some illustrations, maybe I could actually finish the darn thing. Or at least get past page 75. But I digress...)

I've re-read these books--especially the ones by Robert Arthur--a number of times over the years. They hold up pretty well. Nothing's as mind-blowing as being an eight-year-old and discovering them for the first time, but they're still pretty fun.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Anxiety Dreams

In Cynthia Rylant's wonderful picture book Motor Mouse--illustrated by Arthur Howard, whose work on Rylant's Mister Putter and Tabby series I love--Motor Mouse has a pocket watch that tells, not only the time and if it's sunny or rainy, but also whether you are dreaming or you are experiencing something that is really happening.

I need such a watch.

Last night I had an anxiety dream, one of those ultra-realistic ones that you think is reality, about my old job in the corporate world. In this dream I had a Big and Important project due very soon, but not only had I not started the project, I felt totally unqualified to do it at all--and powerless (in that dream-like way of being literally unable to do something) to tell my bosses--who were busy telling me how important the project was, and how they just knew that I would do a great job--that I couldn't do it and hadn't even started. It would have been a great comfort to me to have been able to whip out my pocket watch and see the little hand pointing to "dreaming," instead of thinking it was really happening and waking up at 5:15 a.m. in a panic.

(And if you're thinking, "But in the dream, the watch would have said 'really happening'"--No, if the watch really worked, it would have to say "dreaming" if I was dreaming. The watch is greater than any anxiety dream.) (Except that, yes, the watch is not real and anxiety dreams are. Dangit!)

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Animal Stories: Another Book Post

I love animal stories—the children's literature kind—so I'm going to write a little bit about them.

Children's picture books are filled with animal stories; I suspect that talking, clothes-wearing furry creatures outnumber talking, clothes-wearing human beings in the picture books at most libraries and bookstores. Many of these books are great, but what I'm thinking about here are longer, more prose-heavy books—chapter books and novels. Among those, there are at least three kinds of animal stories (and probably a lot more than that):

1. Completely realistic (and sometimes even true) stories about people and animals, where the people behave like people and the animals behave like animals: The Black Stallion, My Friend Flicka, Old Yeller, Sounder, Gentle Ben, and that one about the racoon, the name of which I can't remember now, and many more. The animals are essential to these stories, but it is really the people who are center stage.

2. Somewhat realistic but mostly fantastical stories about people and animals, where the people behave like people and the animals behave like animals, except for when people aren't around, at which time the animals behave like animals who are fully sentient and can speak English: Charlotte's Web is the best example of this, and also one of the most wonderful books ever written, and also the only example of this kind of book I can think of right now. In Charlotte's Web, the animals don't wear clothes or drive cars or hold down jobs, but they do, when the people aren't around, talk to each other and plot to save Wilbur's life. The sheep and the geese and the pigs and the rat and even the spider—especially the spider—all speak the same language, and remember too that Fern (the human little girl) can understand them, though her mother doesn't pay any attention when Fern tries to tell her about it. The people are essential to these stories (or at least to Charlotte's Web), but it is really the animals who are center stage.

(Charlotte's Web is a great book. If you haven't read it, go read it right now.)

3. Entirely fantastical stories in which people—human beings, that is—don't play an especially large part, and animals are mostly or completely anthropomorphized and talk to each other (even among very different species) and wear cloths and have jobs and houses and use dishes and teacups and cutlery and are all, apparently, for some reason about the same size. This is my favorite category, and the one into which perhaps my favorite novel, The Wind in the Willows, fits. I would also include A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh stories (published in Winnie-The-Pooh and The House At Pooh Corner) in this category; yes, I know, it's made clear in the first book that the stories of Pooh, Piglet, Owl, et al., are stories the Father is telling his Son about the Son's stuffed animals, but that frame isn't consistently applied, and in fact is pretty much abandoned in the second book. So mostly Pooh and his friends are anthropomorphic animals rather than stuffed ones, and Christopher Robin, while occasionally being called upon to Save the Day, is not the central character. The animals are very much center stage. The Wind in the Willows includes only a couple of human characters, who are minor characters; they are barely on the stage at all.

Last year, my favorite of the new books I read (admittedly a fairly short list) was a new category 3 animal story: Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake. I really loved this book. One reviewer described it as a sort of cross between "Frog and Toad" and "The Odd Couple," and that seems pretty fair, though I think there's just as much The Wind in the Willows as Frog and Toad Are Friends in Skunk and Badger.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Vol. I: Another Book Post

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One

This picture shows three different editions of the same book; they are all mine and I took them down from the shelf to take this picture, but none of them is the actual copy I owned and read and loved as a teenager, back around 1985 or so (however, the copy I had was the same as the smallest one shown here, the Avon paperback). And man, did I love this book! It has some fantastic stories in it, including all of the early stars of SF: Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke, of course, but also Simak, Sturgeon, Leiber, Bester, Boucher, and many others. There are twenty-six stories in all, one of which was adapted into a famous episode of "The Twilight Zone" (Jerome Bixby’s "It’s a GOOD Life"), and two of which were made into "Star Trek" episodes ("Arena" by Frederic Brown and "The Little Black Bag" by C.M. Kornbluth). (However, as I’ve said before, the mark of a great story or book is not whether somebody made it into a TV show or movie, which most of the time just results in a mediocre or bad TV show or movie anyway, but whether it’s enjoyable to read as a story or book. But that "Twilight Zone" episode is pretty great.)

The blurb on the front and spine of the 2005 ORB edition says, "The greatest science fiction stories of all time, chosen by the members of the Science Fiction Writers of America," though "of all time" is actually limited to the thirty-five-year span of 1929 – 1964, and technically the contents only cover 1934 - 1963: 1929 was the first year the SFWA considered a published story to be eligible for inclusion and 1964 was the last (because the SFWA was founded in 1965, and immediately started handing out awards for contemporaneous stories), but nothing earlier than 1934 was voted into this collection, and nothing from 1964 made it in either.

The final story in the collection, Roger Zelazny’s "A Rose for Ecclesiastes," is pretty great. I’ve never read any of Zelazny’s novels (almost a crime on my part, I know), but I’ve read quite a few of his short stories, and this might be the best.