Friday, June 23, 2017

Remembering Richard Matheson (1926-2013)

Matheson with his son Richard Christian Matheson
on the cover of the June, 1986 issue of
Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine
On this day in 2013 we lost the astonishingly talented and influential writer Richard Matheson, whose fiction has enthralled and inspired so many readers and writers over the course of his sixty-plus year career. Besides penning some of the finest horror, science fiction, fantasy, western, and mystery fiction of the 20th century (not to mention his underappreciated war novel The Beardless Warriors), Matheson was one of the key creative pillars of The Twilight Zone, responsible for such signature episodes as “Nick of Time,” “The Invaders,” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” Sixteen episodes of the series were either written by Matheson or were adapted from his work by series creator Rod Serling.

Thankfully, much of Matheson’s work remains in print and a great deal has been adapted to the large and small screens. To fully explore Matheson’s career, we recommend two volumes: The Twilight and Other Zones: The Dark Worlds of Richard Matheson, edited by Stanley Wiater, Matthew R. Bradley, and Paul Stuve (Citadel, 2009), and Richard Matheson On Screen: A History of the Filmed Works by Matthew R. Bradley (McFarland, 2010). Matheson’s Collected Stories are available in three paperback volumes from Edge Books (Gauntlet Press), as are his Twilight Zone scripts (in two volumes). Tor Books has released collections of Matheson’s short fiction as well. The first two volumes of the Tor series, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet: Horror Stories (2002) and Duel: Terror Stories (2003), are particularly strong as the contents of both were selected by Matheson himself. An award-winning collection of original stories inspired by Matheson’s work, He is Legend: An Anthology Celebrating Richard Matheson, edited by Christopher Conlon (Gauntlet Press, 2009), is available in paperback from Tor and features the work of William F. Nolan, Stephen King, Joe R. Lansdale, Richard Christian Matheson, and many others, all providing interesting variations on classic Matheson stories. In October of this year Matheson's work will join that of his friend and fellow Twilight Zone writer Charles Beaumont with inclusion in the prestigious Penguin Classics line of paperback books. The volume, titled The Best of Richard Matheson, will be a career retrospective of Matheson's short fiction. The contents are selected by novelist Victor LaValle and will undoubtedly contain some if not all of his stories later adapted for The Twilight Zone.

Be sure to revisit Brian's original post on Matheson's legacy and I’ve included some quick jumps to Matheson’s episodes we’ve covered here in the Vortex as well as a look ahead to the episodes we will be covering in the future. Below that you can view a selection of covers from Matheson's well-regarded works, courtesy of the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, which also provides a bibliography of Matheson's speculative fiction.


-Season One, Episode 11: "And When the Sky Was Opened," adapted by Rod Serling
-Season One, Episode 14: "Third from the Sun," adapted by Rod Serling
-Season One, Episode 18: "The Last Flight"
-Season One, Episode 23: "A World of Difference"
-Season One, Episode 36: "A World of His Own"

-Season Two, Episode 43: "Nick of Time"
-Season Two, Episode 51: "The Invaders"

-Season Three, Episode 78: "Once Upon a Time"
-Season Three, Episode 91: "Little Girl Lost"
-Season Three, Episode 99: “Young Man’s Fancy”

-Season Four, Episode 107: “Mute”
-Season Four, Episode 108: “Death Ship”

-Season Five, Episode 122: “Steel”
-Season Five, Episode 123: “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”
-Season Five, Episode 139: “Night Call”
-Season Five, Episode 141: "Spur of the Moment"

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"Person or Persons Unknown"

Pictured here: David Gurney (Richard Long) on a trip to the Twilight Zone

“Person or Persons Unknown”
Season Three, Episode 92
Original Air Date: March 23, 1962

David Andrew Gurney: Richard Long
Dr. Koslenko: Frank Silvera
Wilma #1: Shirley Ballard
Wilma #2: Julie Van Zandt
Sam Baker: Ed Glover
Clerk: Betty Harford
Policeman: Michael Keep
Bank Guard: Joe Higgins
Mr. Cooper: John Newton
Sam the Bartender: Clegg Hoyt
Truck Owner: Bob McCord

Writer: Charles Beaumont (original teleplay)
Director: John Brahm
Producer: Buck Houghton
Production Manager: Ralph W. Nelson
Director of Photography: Robert W. Pittack
Art Direction: George W. Davis and Merrill Pye
Set Decoration: Keogh Gleason
Assistant Director: E. Darrell Hallenbeck
Casting: Robert Walker
Film Editor: Bill Mosher
Sound: Franklin Milton and Bill Edmondson
Music: Stock

And Now, Mr. Serling:

“Next week we again borrow from the considerable talents of Charles Beaumont and we take a fast trot on the wild side. Picture if you will, a man who wakes up in a strange world, knows everyone, knows every place, feels very much at home. The strangeness comes from the fact that no one knows him. Try this one for size on the next Twilight Zone. It’s called ‘Person or Persons Unknown.’

“Habit is something you do when pleasure is gone, and certainly this is not the way to smoke. I prefer to smoke Chesterfields and get the rich taste of 21 great tobaccos. Blended mild not filtered mild. Smoke for pleasure. Smoke Chesterfields.”

Rod Serling’s Opening Narration:

“Cameo of a man who has just lost his most valuable possession. He doesn’t know about the loss yet. In fact, he doesn’t even know about the possession. Because, like most people, David Gurney has never really thought about the matter of his identity. But he’s going to be thinking a great deal about it from now on, because that is what he’s lost. And his search for it is going to take him into the darkest corners…of the Twilight Zone.”


            David Gurney wakes up in his home after a long night of revelry. His wife Wilma is asleep next to him. After realizing he is late for work he attempts to make himself presentable all the while talking to his sleeping wife. He is regretting the late night and is apparently losing the fight with his hangover.
            When Wilma finally awakens she screams. She looks at Gurney as if he is a total stranger. Believing her behavior to be an act he informs her that he is late for work. She says she has never seen him before in her life. More irritated than shocked, Gurney leaves for work.
            At the bank where he works, Gurney notices a man he does not recognize sitting in his desk. Still believing the strange morning to be part of an elaborate gag, he asks the man with mocking politeness to give him back his desk. The stranger looks at him with a bemused face and does not attempt to move. Gurney tries getting the attention of his co-workers but they all seem to look at him with the same confused expression. Frustrated, he begins to yell at the stranger, demanding that he get up. A security guard escorts him outside where he sees Wilma standing in front of a police cruiser. She identifies Gurney as the man who broke into her apartment earlier that morning. After a fruitless argument, officers arrest Gurney.
            Later, Gurney finds himself in a psychiatric hospital trying to prove his sanity. A doctor named Koslenko tells him that he has created a fantasy life in order to escape his problems. Gurney says he can prove his story and asks for a phone to call his mother. She claims that she does not have a son named David Gurney. He reluctantly gives the phone back to the doctor. He still believes that he can make sense of the situation and prove his innocence. He crashes through a window and takes off running.
            He arrives at a bar, a secret place that he has never mentioned to anyone. Not surprisingly, the bartender fails to recognize him. Gurney can feel his sanity slipping. Then he gets an idea. He races to a photography studio to pick up a photograph of himself and his wife at the zoo. His wife, he says, does not know that the photograph exists. The counter clerk hands him the photograph and he is relieved when he sees his wife in the picture with his arm around her. As he opens the door to leave he is greeted by Dr. Koslenko and several police officers. Gurney hands the doctor the photograph but the doctor’s face remains expressionless. Gurney snatches the picture out of his hands and looks at it. In the photograph David Gurney stands alone, his arm around no one. He collapses to the ground, sobbing.
             Moments later, he wakes up in his apartment. It was just a dream, he realizes, a nightmare. He begins talking to his wife who is in the bathroom. He tells her about his terrifying dream and his hangover. Wilma walks into the bedroom. Gurney stares at her in disbelief. This is not his wife. He has never seen this woman before in his life. Finally fearing that his sanity may have officially left him, he collapses on the bed in horror.

Rod Serling’s Closing Narration:

“A case of mistaken identity or a nightmare turned inside out? A simple loss of memory or the end of the world? David Gurney may never find the answer, but you can be sure he’s looking for it…in the Twilight Zone.”


“Person or Persons Unknown,” Charles Beaumont’s twenty-four minute urban nightmare about mistaken identity, could be considered the quintessential Twilight Zone episode for its premise illustrates the theme present in the majority of the show’s darker efforts: a person inexplicably faced with a situation beyond their comprehension inducing a terror that they cannot share with anyone else. Rod Serling often described the most devastating type of fear as a fear of the unknown that affects only one person, a fear which that person cannot share with anyone else. Richard Matheson described the thematic element running throughout the majority of his work in a similar manner: “an individual isolated in a threatening world, attempting to survive.” If the main focus of the show was to explore this particular part of human psychology then it makes sense that its three main contributors would all have a substantial interest in the same area. The way they approached the subject, however, was unique to each writer.
Serling often approached the theme in a very humanistic manner, where a character’s fate is determined by their own moral compass. The good guys are rewarded with a happy ending and the bad guys usually suffer a less appealing fate. Matheson was fascinated with social interaction and exposing the affectations people wear around others by placing his characters in unfamiliar situations. His stories usually focus on how people react to their surroundings. Beaumont possessed an unquestionable fascination with human psychology, particularly in how our subconscious influences our personality and our interpretation of the world around us.
The plot of this episode bears a strong resemblance to Serling’s “And When the Sky Was Open,” which is a loose adaptation of Richard Matheson’s story “Disappearing Act,” and Matheson’s own “A World of Difference.” The basic premise of “Person or Person’s Unknown” actually feels more like a Matheson idea than a Beaumont idea. The most terrifying thing about this story is that at no time does it attempt to explain what is happening or why. So the audience knows exactly what David Gurney knows and they experience the same sense of absurd bewilderment that he is experiencing. Why has this happened? Who or what is causing it to happen? Is Gurney insane or is he in an alternate reality of some kind? Beaumont never tells us. Matheson excelled at this type of story.
Beaumont brought his personality to the story by having a psychiatrist provide a possible explanation for Gurney’s predicament. Depressed or unhappy with his own life, our hero has manufactured a fictional character named David Gurney and given him a happy, normal life to substitute for his own. Beaumont often used psychiatrists as a way of probing a character’s subconscious. “Perchance to Dream,” “Miniature,” and “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You”—in which Long coincidentally plays an absurdly flamboyant psychiatrist named Sigmund Friend—all feature doctors of the mind in varying degrees of authority.
Beaumont also had a life-long obsession with dreams and how they represent our personality. In an interview with the San Diego Union Beaumont said that as a child he would dream episodically, with a different episode each night. He examined this in his very first teleplay for the show, “Perchance to Dream,” where protagonist Edward Hall is experiencing a reoccurring nightmare which inches along each time he falls asleep, eventually ending with his death, both in the dream and in real life. This is the first of a trilogy of episodes written by Beaumont which explore the process of dreaming, the second being his season two episode “Shadow Play” and the third being “Person to Persons Unknown.” All three episodes explore basically the same theme, although in the latter two the characters and images change from one dream to another, but the fear is always the same: the hero is trapped in a nightmare which he cannot escape. Beaumont ends “Persons to Persons Unknown” by letting the audience briefly think that they have arrived at an explanation only to leave them, and David Gurney, back where they began. He awakens from a nightmare into a nightmare.
No matter the device he used to explore it, Beaumont seemed to be endlessly fascinated with the subconscious mind for this theme occurs again and again throughout his work. His story “The Hunger” is about sexual repression. “Fair Lady” explores repressed loneliness. “In His Image” explores the process of rediscovering forgotten memories—even though they turn out to be someone else’s memories. Beaumont had an immense interest in the make-up of the human mind. Had his life not been cut tragically short he likely would have produced a novel-length work on the subject.
“Person or Persons Unknown” has one of the most clever twist endings in the show’s history (it was number 18 on our 20 best twist endings countdown). It is also one of the most subtle which, unfortunately, may diminish its shock value upon a first viewing. The main reason it is lost on many viewers is that the first Wilma doesn’t have much screen time. By the time the audience is introduced to Wilma #2, the original Wilma hasn’t been on screen for almost fifteen minutes. And for much of her screen time she is wearing a head wrap so the dramatic switch in hair color, which is the main visual indicator that it is a different actress, does not pack the punch that it should. It is a brilliant idea on paper but one that slightly loses its impact on the screen.
This is likely due to the somewhat lackluster direction from Twilight Zone stalwart John Brahm. This is atypical direction for Brahm whose signature dark, dream-like style, evident in episodes like “Judgement Night” and “Shadow Play,” is a perfect fit for the show. Instead of focusing on the dream aspect of this story Brahm takes a more realistic approach to what is happening. Instead of shadows and dark imagery, the entire episode takes place in the middle of the day with many exterior scenes under bright burning sunlight. This cheats the episode of the moody atmosphere needed in this type of story. Brahm does make interesting use of close head shots of Richard Long, showcasing his animated facial expressions.
Long is without a doubt the best thing about this episode. He gives David Gurney a slightly off-putting personality which actually helps to make him a more relatable character. Instead of losing his mind due to having his life pulled out from under him he remains defiant and rational until the end. As mentioned, Long appears in Beaumont and John Tomerlin’s fifth season episode “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You” where he plays several different characters. Long started acting while still in his teens, first appearing in the film Tomorrow is Forever with Orson Welles and Claudette Colbert in 1946 and then in Welles’s The Stranger that same year. He also appeared in four of the Ma and Pa Kettle films. As an adult he appeared in several memorable horror films including William Castle's House on Haunted Hill (1959). He is probably best remembered for his roles in Bourbon Street Beat, 77 Sunset Strip, and The Big Valley. He also appeared in episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. In 1974 he suffered several heart attacks within weeks of each other and died at the age of 47.
            While it has its share of flaws “Person or Persons Unknown” is still an enjoyable episode. Beaumont’s script is solid and Long’s performance is immensely entertaining to watch. It’s an episode which strips the show’s thematic thread to its rawest form and illustrates what it strove to say about fear and the human condition, that man’s greatest and oldest fear is simply being alone.

Grade: B

Grateful acknowledgement to:

--The Twilight Zone Scripts of Charles Beaumont, Volume One, edited by Roger Anker (Gauntlet Press, 2004)

--Richard Matheson: Collected Stories edited by Stanley Wiater (Dream
Press, 1989)

--The Twilight Zone Definitive Edition DVD Season One (Image Entertainment, 2004)

--Original Pilot Version of “Where Is Everybody?”

--Rod Serling 1975 Lecture at Sherwood Oaks College


--Richard Long also appears in the season five episode “Number Twelve Looks Just Like You” co-written by Beaumont and John Tomerlin.
--John Brahm directed twelve episodes of The Twilight Zone, more than anyone else—Douglas Heyes and Buzz Kulik are tied for second place with nine episodes each. He is also the only director to contribute to all five seasons of the show. His credits include season one’s “Judgement Night,” “Mirror Image,” and “The Four of Us Are Dying,” season two’s “Shadow Play” and season four’s “The New Exhibit.”
--This is the first of twenty episodes for director of photography Robert W. Pittack. His other contributions to the show include the classics “Death Ship,” “Jess-Belle,” “Miniature,” “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” and “Living Doll.”
--Listen to the Twilight Zone Radio Drama starring John Schneider.


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Reading Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, part 1

In which we take a closer look at each issue of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine. For our capsule history of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine go here.

Volume 1, number 1 (April, 1981)
Editor: T.E.D. Klein
Cover illustration by Jim Warren, 
for Harlan Ellison’s “Grail” 

--Klein is today known for two critically lauded and commercially successful books from the 1980’s, a novel, The Ceremonies (1984), and a collection of long stories, Dark Gods (1985). He left Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine in 1985 to focus on writing fiction. Klein is also known among genre readers for his lack of productivity following the aforementioned two books. A third novel, Nighttown, was heavily advertised and slated for release in 1989 only to remain unpublished. That novel concerns a subway murderer in New York City who hunts down the only witness to his crimes. Klein recently retired from his day job and there are indications that Nighttown will eventually appear.

--Klein developed an early interest in weird fiction and his tastes in the genre would shape the course of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine. Klein became active in the early 1970’s with the appearance of his highly regarded short story, “The Events at Poroth Farm,” a story which provided the framework for his 1984 novel The Ceremonies. He continued to produce short fiction throughout the 1980’s. Klein provided critical essays to studies of H.P. Lovecraft and story notes for Kirby McCauley’s 1976 horror anthology Beyond Midnight before devoting his time to magazine editing. He briefly edited Night Cry magazine and the true crime magazine CrimeBeat. Klein also produced a how-to book for aspiring horror writers, Raising Goosebumps for Fun and Profit: a Brief Guide, for Beginners, to the How’s and Why’s of Horror (1988).  

TZ Publications, Inc.
-The magazine was published and distributed by Montcalm Publishing. The TZ Publications imprint was created for the magazine.

President & Chairman: S. Edward Orenstein
Secretary & Treasurer: Sidney Z. Gellman
Executive Vice Presidents: Nils A. Shapiro & Eric Protter
-Protter, who also served as Editorial Director, was an occasional anthologist, most notably with Monster Festival, illustrated by Edward Gorey (Vanguard Press, 1965) and A Harvest of Horrors (Vanguard, 1980)

Executive Publisher: S. Edward Orenstein
Publisher: Nils A. Shapiro
Associate Publisher and Consulting Editor: Carol Serling
Editorial Director: Eric Protter
Editor: T.E.D. Klein
Managing Editor: Diana Steinhorn
Contributing Editors: Gahan Wilson and Theodore Sturgeon
-The editorial department was comprised of an impressive group of contributors throughout the course of the magazine, but particularly in this early era, as Protter, Wilson, and Sturgeon, all highly accomplished in their chosen fields, contributed to the editorship of talented writer and critic T.E.D. Klein.

Design Director: Derek Burton
Art and Studio Production: Georg the Design Group
Design Consultant: Steve Phillips
Production Director: Edward Ernest
Controller: Thomas Schiff
Administrative Asst: Eve Grammatas
Public Relations Manager: Melissa Blanck-Grammatas
Public Relations Assistant: Jeffrey Nickora
Accounting Manager: Chris Grossman
Circulation Manager: Denise Kelly
Circulation Assistant: Karen Wiss
Circulation Marketing Manager: Jerry Alexander
Western Newsstand Consultant: Harry Sommer
V.P. Advertising Director: Martin Lassman
N.Y. Advertising Manager: Louis J. Scott
Advertising Production Manager: Rachael Britapaja
Advertising Assistant: Marina Despotakis

--Cover Matter: The magazine billed itself as including all-new tales of suspense, horror and the supernatural in the tradition of the classic television series, firmly aligning itself with horror and supernatural fiction rather than with science fiction (commonly, though erroneously, believed to be the primary thoroughfare of the television series), although the magazine would publish a good deal of the latter. It also indicated that the original television series would play a key role in the contents of the magazine. The magazine frequently utilized very appealing painted or photographic artwork. From the October, 1983 issue, however (an issue that was a Twilight Zone: The Movie special), the magazine covers were devoted to films and film coverage. This remained the case, more or less, until February, 1985, when the magazine reverted back to using painted covers. 


“A Personal Message” by Carol Serling
In the Twilight Zone by T.E.D. Klein
“Rod Serling: First Citizen of the Twilight Zone” by T.E.D. Klein and Marc Scott Zicree
Other Dimensions: Screen by Gahan Wilson
Other Dimensions: Books by Theodore Sturgeon
TZ Interview: Stephen King by Charles L. Grant
“Grail” by Harlan Ellison
“Remembering Melody” by George R.R. Martin
“Author’s Query” by Fred C. Shapiro
“The Rose Wall” by Joyce Carol Oates
Screen Preview: “Escape from New York”
“The Death Runner” by Thomas Sullivan
“The Next Sideshow” by Ramsey Campbell
“Absolute Ebony” by Felice Picano
3 Cautionary Tales: “The Helping Hand,” “The Man Who Loved,” and “The Wish” by Robert Sheckley
“Groucho” by Ron Goulart
America Enters the Twilight Zone: Part 1 of TZ’s Show-by-Show Guide
            by Marc Zicree
TZ Classic Teleplay: “Walking Distance” by Rod Serling
Looking Ahead

--Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine filled a void on the newsstands for readers interested in intelligent dark fantasy fiction as well as current coverage of fantasy books, films, music, and news from the horror/fantasy/science fiction community. The magazine also, particularly under Klein’s editorship, devoted a good amount of space to the classic writers of weird fiction. The magazine successfully melded the best of a genre film magazine with the best of a genre fiction magazine. A notable predecessor in this format was Omni magazine, begun in 1978, a magazine with a more science (and science-fictional) leaning and one which clearly influenced the layout and content of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine. Notable successors include Science Fiction Age and Cemetery Dance (exploring science fiction and horror, respectively), two of the finest such magazine of the 1990’s.

--Once established, the structure of the magazine generally remained the same throughout its run. Features included an interview with a notable writer or filmmaker, a book review column, a movie review column, a music review column, a news column, a letters page, along with eight or so works of illustrated fiction. Some features, such as show guides to anthology television series, teleplays from the original series of The Twilight Zone, full-color movie previews, and features on Rod Serling and other Twilight Zone writers, appeared regularly as well. Editorial features began to overcrowd the magazine, particularly once a feature film and the revival television series bearing The Twilight Zone name were released. Editor Klein’s answer was, in 1984, to create a sister magazine, Night Cry, which was devoted solely to horror and dark fantasy fiction. The fiction, however, remained the linchpin of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine.

--“A Personal Message: An invitation to re-enter the Twilight Zone” by Carol Serling
-Rod Serling’s widow, acting as Associate Publisher and Consulting Editor, provided a welcome message, hereafter titled “A Note from the Publisher,” for several subsequent issues. This first essay focused on ways in which the term “twilight zone” became a regularly used part of the American idiom since the end of the original television series. Serling also briefly dispels any notions that Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine would feature space opera or the baser aspects of horror fiction, promising instead to deliver intelligent adult fantasy fiction. Carol Serling took a marked interest in the preservation of her late husband’s work, beginning in the early 1980’s with a series of fiction anthologies, including Rod Serling’s Night Gallery Reader in 1987 (Dembner Books; with Charles G. Waugh and Martin H. Greenberg) and several Twilight Zone themed anthologies leading up to the present day. Serling took an active interest in the magazine as well, particularly during Klein’s editorship.

--In the Twilight Zone by T.E.D. Klein
-This editorial would continue for every issue and served as a preview of the contents of the issue, with thumbnail photographs of and notes on each contributor. This page also includes all editorial credits.

--TZ Profile: Rod Serling, First Citizen of the Twilight Zone by T.E.D. Klein and Marc Zicree
-This profile centers on Rod Serling’s life from childhood to the inception of The Twilight Zone. A hugely informative essay, much of the material would appear again a year later in Marc Scott Zicree’s The Twilight Zone Companion, and will therefore be familiar to readers of that volume. Interestingly, Zicree’s then-forthcoming book is referred to as The Making of the Twilight Zone. The profile includes several photographs, many of which have not appeared elsewhere.

--Other Dimensions: Screen by Gahan Wilson
-Wilson, best known as the creator of morbidly funny cartoons for Playboy and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, is also an accomplished writer of short macabre fiction, including the frequently anthologized stories, “Mister Ice Cold” and “The Sea Was Wet as Wet Could Be.” Here, Wilson dives right in with his first movie review column. He favorably reviews two films from director David Lynch, The Elephant Man, then in general release, and Eraserhead, then making the arthouse circuit rounds. Wilson less-favorably reviews the Charlton Heston film, The Awakening, an almost completely forgotten film loosely based on Bram Stoker’s 1903 novel of Egyptian horror, The Jewel of Seven Stars. Wilson finishes with a short dismissal of the cult horror favorite, Motel Hell.  Wilson previously reviewed books for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from 1968-1976 and later provided the same service to Realms of Fantasy magazine from 1994-2000. Wilson continued to review fantasy films for Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine until the publication folded in 1989.

--Other Dimensions: Books by Theodore Sturgeon
-Sturgeon, the celebrated science-fantasy writer (The Dreaming Jewels, More Than Human, Some of Your Blood, and many short stories) was also a frequent book reviewer for genre publications, notably for Galaxy Science Fiction and Venture Science Fiction. Sturgeon takes a measured approach in his first review column, setting forth his philosophy toward criticism and what readers can expect of the column. Notable among Sturgeon’s parameters is the opportunity to review older, neglected works. Sturgeon leaves himself little room for actual reviews and quickly recommends a list of books.

The books listed by Sturgeon are:
The Sunset Warrior; Shallows of Night; and Dai-San by Eric Van Lustbader
Savage Heroes edited by Michel Parry
Firelord by Parke Godwin
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
The Grey Mane of Morning by Joy Chant
The Seekers of Shar-Nuhn by Ardath Mayhar
Satyrday by Steven Bauer
The Shapes of Midnight by Joseph Payne Brennan (intro by Stephen King)
The Dark by James Herbert
Edges edited by Virginia Kidd and Ursula K. Le Guin
Ray Bradbury; and Ursula K. Le Guin edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Joseph D. Olander
H.P. Lovecraft: Four Decades of Criticism edited by S.T. Joshi
Magic Time by Kit Reed
The Paradise Plot by Ed Naha
King David’s Spaceship by Jerry Pournelle
The Claw of the Conciliator by Gene Wolfe
An Island Called Moreau by Brian W. Aldiss
Wizard by John Varley
The Magic Labyrinth by Philip Jose Farmer
The Arbor House Treasury of Modern Science Fiction edited by Robert Silverberg and Martin H. Greenberg

-Sturgeon continued to review books for Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine for an additional year before giving way to other voices, notable among whom were Thomas M. Disch and E.F. Bleiler. Two of Sturgeon’s short stories, “A Saucer of Lonliness” and “Yesterday Was Monday” (as “A Matter of Minutes”) were adapted for the first revival Twilight Zone television series. Many of the writers for both the original television series and the revival series consider Sturgeon a chief influence on their work.

--TZ Interview: Stephen King: “I Like to Go for the Jugular,” conducted by Charles L. Grant
-This is an excellent interview with Stephen King at a time when he was ascendant on the publishing scene, having just released Firestarter the previous year. At the time of the interview King was at work on Cujo and also discusses the general plot of what eventually appeared as IT in 1986. The interview is conducted by King’s friend and fellow horror writer Charles L. Grant. Grant was a leading proponent of the “quiet horror” school of writing in which atmosphere and character are given precedence over violence and gore. This school of horror writing was in direct response to the more visceral style of horror beginning to crop up in the industry, which better reflected horror films and which reached its brief zenith in the Splatterpunk movement of the mid-to-late 1980’s, exemplified in the works of Joe R. Lansdale, Clive Barker, David J. Schow, John Skipp and Craig Spector, all of whom would contribute to either Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine or Night Cry.

-What is particularly refreshing about the interview is that King is not yet as self-conscious about being a horror writer as he would later become. When asked about influences he lists Ray Bradbury (especially Bradbury’s collection of weird tales, The October Country), Charles Beaumont, and, particularly, Richard Matheson. King singles out Matheson’s novella, “Mute,” as a personal favorite. “Mute” was adapted by Matheson as an hour-long episode of the fourth season of the original television series. The films adapted from King’s work are also discussed and the interview is accompanied by many photographs, including a rarely seen candid photo of the King family. 

--“Grail” by Harlan Ellison

Illustration by A.G. Metcalf
“To crack the vault where true love lay buried, he needed an expert from Hell with a gift for opening locks.”
-A man searching for true love resorts to traveling the globe and conjuring demons in an effort to discover the location of an ancient artifact. 
Grade: B

-Ellison, who should be familiar to readers of this blog, is likely the most awarded writer of speculative fiction the field has yet produced, best known for scores of classic short stories, too many to list here,  as well as the Outer Limits episodes “Soldier” and “Demon With a Glass Hand.” He was arguably at the height of his abilities in the early 1980’s and “Grail” displays the fecundity of his style. The story contains idiosyncratic characterizations, a frantic pace, splendid grotesqueries, and a unique blending of the real and the imaginary. The story does run a bit long and the frantic pacing can be exhausting in places but few can challenge Ellison in this sort of street-wise horror story, which combines humor, dark fantasy, and the lure of esoteric knowledge in an appealing manner.

-Ellison was a frequent contributor to the magazine and served on a panel of judges for the magazine’s first short story contest. Ellison also contributed to the first revival television series of The Twilight Zone, working as Creative Consultant and providing teleplays until friction with the network over an adaptation of Donald E. Westlake’s short story, “Nackles,” caused Ellison to walk away from the series.

-“Grail” was collected in Ellison’s 1982 volume Stalking the Nightmare, a book which includes a memorable introduction by Stephen King. The story also appeared in the only annual issue of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine, Great Stories from Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine (1982). “Grail” also appeared in the anthology Demons! edited by Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann. The story appeared in both the 35 and 50 year editions of Ellison’s career retrospective, The Essential Ellison, edited by Terry Dowling with Richard Delap and Gil Lamont. 

 --“Remembering Melody” by George R.R. Martin

Illustration by Jose Reyes
“He had to end it once and for all. Get rid of this curse on his life.”
-A man’s life is altered by the sudden appearance of a troubled and troublesome friend from the past. Grade: A

-Martin, now known for the massively successful Game of Thrones franchise, was a far more versatile writer in his earlier years, producing outstanding, award-winning science fiction, fantasy, and horror, particularly in the short form. This subtly creepy story is a near-perfect updating of the Twilight Zone style of dark fantasy for the 1980’s, and it is a shame it was not adapted for the revival television series, though the grisly subject matter was perhaps too strong for network television of the time. Martin was a veteran of television production, working on the Beauty and the Beast series as a writer and producer, and was a natural to contribute to The Twilight Zone revival series. Martin acted as Story Editor on a handful of episodes and contributed memorable teleplays, particularly for the episodes “The Road Not Taken” and “The Once and Future King,” the latter of which was based on a story by Bryce Maritano.

-“Remembering Melody” was included in Great Stories from Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine (1982) and collected in the definitive edition of Martin’s horror stories, Songs the Dead Men Sing (Dark Harvest) in 1983. The story is also included in Terry Carr’s Fantasy Annual V (Pocket Books, 1982), Fears, edited by Charles L. Grant (Berkley, 1983), and A Century of Fantasy 1980-1989: The Greatest Stories of the Decade, edited by Robert Silverberg. The story was also included in the definitive collection of Martin’s short fiction, GRRM: A Retrospective (Subterranean, 2003), later published in two volumes by Bantam Books as Dreamsongs I and Dreamsongs II.

--“Author’s Query” by Fred C. Shapiro
Illustration by Jose Reyes
“How come M.X. Davis knows more about my life than I do?”
-A writer finds his life being supplanted by an unseen personality who bears remarkable similarities to himself. Grade: C

-The journalist Shapiro is more familiar to readers of The New Yorker than of genre publications, and presents here what appears to be his only foray into speculative fiction. The story is slight and slightly derivative, owing much to an old concept most expertly explored in Harlan Ellison’s famous story, “Shatterday,” a story which was memorably adapted as the premier episode of The Twilight Zone revival series starring Bruce Willis and directed by Wes Craven. The original series Twilight Zone tried its hand at this type of story as well, most memorably with Charles Beaumont’s season four shocker “In His Image.”

--“The Rose Wall” by Joyce Carol Oates

Illustration by Thomas Angell
“Your punishment will be to go without supper . . . to spend the night alone, outside the wall.”
-A young girl ventures beyond the wall which boarders her estate with terrible results. Grade: A

-In this unsettling mood piece, Oates presents a disorienting and unnerving alternate reality which she wisely keeps ambiguous in terms of setting and time period, heightening the paranoia and strangeness of the story. Oates is unique among writers who frequent the material of horror and gothic fiction in that she is widely respected among mainstream critics as a novelist of realist fiction. The hugely prolific Oates has won multiple literary awards, including a National Book Award and the O. Henry Award, and has always seemed intrigued by the darker side of fiction. Oates presence alone strengthens the magazine. She was a strong supporter of the magazine who also sat on a panel of judges for the magazine’s first short story contest.

-“The Rose Wall” was also included in Great Stories from Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine (1982), as well as the 2012 anthology Other Worlds Than These, edited by John Joseph Adams.

--TZ Screen Preview: Escape from New York
-A full-color feature on director John Carpenter’s film which would be released a few months later on July, 10, 1981. In features such as this, and in its dedication to feature editorials, the magazine separated itself from the other science fiction, fantasy, and horror periodicals as it straddled the line between genre entertainment periodical and genre fiction periodical. It is interesting to note that the audience for genre films/television and those for genre fiction do not necessarily correlate and some magazines, such as the aforementioned Science Fiction Age, suffered when a conscious attempt was made to include more coverage of the entertainment industry. Likewise, when some dedicated film magazines attempted to include fiction, it was not favorably received. The article points out the fact that two actors from Escape from New York, Donald Pleasance and Lee Van Cleef, also starred in Twilight Zone episodes, “Changing of the Guard” and “The Grave,” respectably.

--“The Death Runner” by Thomas Sullivan
Illustrated by Robert Neubecker
“But the real horror was that final runner.”
-An aging runner meets his past selves on the track with deadly results. Grade: C

-Sullivan is a fairly prolific writer of horror, fantasy, and mystery novels and short stories. He began publishing in the mid-1970’s. “The Death Runner” is a bit too slight in terms of plot and characterization to stick in the memory but does possess an unusual supernatural device and a stark, albeit predictable, ending. The story was reprinted in the second issue of Night Cry, Summer, 1985. 

--“The Next Side Show” by Ramsey Campbell

Illustration by Frances Jetter
“Was the proprietor sneaking mirrors into new positions, for revenge?”
-A man enters a mirror maze to escape the rain with unforeseen results. Grade: B

-Campbell is perhaps the most respected and awarded writer of modern horror to come out of Great Britain in the modern era. He’s been actively producing quality work since the late 1960’s and is refreshingly devoted to horror as an artform. He deserves a much wider audience. Campbell’s work for most part eschews the traditional aspects of the horror genre to create ambiguous and unsettling fiction which aims to disturb rather than horrify. Although highly accomplished as a novelist (The Face that Must Die, Ancient Images), Campbell is at his most powerful when working in the short form. His works have won numerous British Fantasy, World Fantasy, and Bram Stoker Awards. Campbell’s career retrospective, Alone With the Horrors, comes highly recommended, and is a book dedicated to T.E.D. Klein. Campbell is also an accomplished editor, anthologist, and essayist with an enviable knowledge of horror fiction and films.

-“The Next Side Show” is typical of Campbell’s work in that it involves an average person drawn into a subtly horrifying situation. A man locks his keys in his apartment and decides to walk down to the park where he finds a grimy caravan. To escape the rain, he ducks into a mirror maze that changes him forever. Mood and atmosphere are expertly evoked and Campbell’s fiction is underscored by a sense of urban decay. He credits H.P. Lovecraft and Fritz Leiber as his chief influences. Many of Campbell’s stories take place in marginalized places: seaside towns, grimy carnivals, abandoned urban areas, and the like. A similar, yet superior Campbell story is his classic 1976 story, “The Companion.”  

--“Absolute Ebony” by Felice Picano

Illustrated by Arthur Somerfield
“Michaelis felt as though he were seeing through a portal into an entirely new dimension.”
-A painter who’s suffered a personal tragedy seeks the darkest of colors to paint his masterpiece. Grade: B

-This chilling supernatural horror story is marred only by the unsatisfying ending. It concerns an American painter in Rome who suffers a personal tragedy which changes his life and his craft. Using an unnaturally dark pigment to fashion his masterpiece, a period self-portrait, the painter discovers that the ebony hue has a life of its own. The story evokes the best of the classic weird tales of LeFanu, Machen, and the like, which is certainly why it appealed to editor T.E.D. Klein. The Italian setting is convincing and the pace of the story is perfectly measured. Picano is a prolific writer of novels, stories, poetry, memoirs, and essays. He is also an accomplished editor and anthologist. His work is frequently speculative in nature and is closely aligned with gay literature. He has won several literary awards.

--3 Cautionary Tales by Robert Sheckley
Illustrated by Jose Reyes

“The Helping Hand”
-A man contemplating suicide is given a nasty surprise by his wife.

“The Man Who Loved”
-A woman escape the imprisoning affections of a rejected suitor.

“The Wish”
-A man conjures a powerful demon but hesitates when considering his one wish to be granted.

-Three short-shorts from Robert Sheckley, a familiar name among science fiction readers whose output of short stories displays a sardonic and grimly humorous view of humanity far ahead of its time. The first and third stories contains the biting irony typically necessary for the short-short form to be effective. The second story is less successful with an interesting set-up but an unsatisfactory payoff. A bit of trivia: in the third season episode, “The Arrival,” Rod Serling chose the name Sheckley for his main character. Was this a possible nod to the Robert Sheckley, who was a frequently seen name in the science fiction magazines of the time? 

--“Groucho” by Ron Goulart

Illustration by Randy Jones
“Even in Hollywood you couldn’t get by with letting a cat talk all over the place.”
-A hack writer uses black magic to reincarnate his old writing partner, who returns in the body of a housecat. Grade: B

-This humorous story by the prolific Goulart is written in the concise style of hard-boiled crime fiction. It plays on the familiar tropes of fantasy fiction and includes plenty of sly dialogue. Goulart is knowns as a prolific mystery writer as well as a comic-book historian. Goulart was friends with several members of the Southern California Group of writers.

--Show-by-Show Guide: American Enters the Twilight Zone
Part One of Marc Scott Zicree’s Show-by-Show Guide to the Entire Twilight Zone Television Series, Complete with Rod Serling’s Opening and Closing Narrations.

-Zicree, author of the definitive examination of the series, The Twilight Zone Companion, here offers an introductory essay examining the creation of the series from where Rod Serling was in his career at the time. Zicree then begins his examination of each episode. Zicree provides Rod Serling’s opening and closing narrations and a detailed summary of each episode. He does not provide the running commentary which would feature in his book, presumably to given a buyer reason to purchase said volume. The episodes he covers in this issue are: “Where is Everybody?,” “One for the Angels,” “Mr. Denton on Doomsday,” “The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine,” “Walking Distance,” “Escape Clause,” ”The Lonely,” “Time Enough at Last,” “Perchance to Dream,” “Judgment Night,” “And When the Sky Was Opened,” “What You Need,” “The Four of Us Are Dying,” and “Third From the Sun.” An interesting aspect of Zicree’s coverage for the magazine is that he chooses to examine the episodes in order of original broadcast whereas in The Twilight Zone Companion he chooses to examine the episodes in order of production.

--TZ Classic Teleplay: “Walking Distance” by Rod Serling
­-This is the shooting script of the episode, accompanied by stills from the filmed episode. “Walking Distance” is a story that went through several drafts and alterations before a final shooting script was produced. To read an earlier draft of the teleplay, see volume 2 of As Timeless as Infinity: The Twilight Zone Scripts of Rod Serling, edited by Tony Albarella (Gauntlet Press, 2005). Read our review of “Walking Distance” here.

--Looking Ahead

A back cover feature which previews the next month’s issue.