30 January 2012

Suggestive Harlequins: A Romantic Threesome

To Please the Doctor
Marjorie Moore

Doctor in Bondage
Jean S. MacLeod

Strange Request
Marjorie Bassett

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25 January 2012

'Burns' by James McIntyre, the Cheese Poet

Montréal - Downtown Montréal: Square Dorchester - Robert Burns Memorial
The Robert Burns Memorial
Square Dorchester (né Dominion), Montreal
Photograph by Wally Gobetz

The following ode was read by the author at the Centennial Anniversary of Burns in the year 1859.
This night shall never be forgot
   For humble life none now despise,
Since Burns was born in lowly cot
   Whose muses wing soars to the skies. 
'Round Scotia's brow he wove a wreath
   And raised her name in classic story
A deathless fame he did bequeath,
   His country's pride, his country's glory. 
He sang her hills, he sang her dales,
   Of Bonnie Doon and Banks of Ayr,
Of death and Hornbook and such tales
   As Tam O'Shanter and his mare. 
He bravely taught that manly worth
   More precious is than finest gold,
He reckoned not on noble birth,
   But noble deeds alone extolled. 
Where will we find behind the plow
   Or in the harvest field at toil
Another youth, sweet bard, like thou,
   Could draw the tear or raise the smile. 
We do not think 'twas Burns' fault,
   For there were no teetotalers then,
That Willie brewed a peck of malt
   And Robin preed like other men. 
'Tis true he loved the lasses dear,
   But who for this would loudly blame,
For Scotia's maids his heart did cheer
   And love is a true heavenly flame. 
So here we've met in distant land
   Poor honest Robin to extol,
Though oft we differ let us stand
   United now in Ingersoll.
From Poems of James McIntyre (Ingersoll, ON: Chronicle, 1889) 

22 January 2012

No Lady Before Judith Hearne

A Bullet for My Lady
Bernard Mara [pseud. Brian Moore]
New York: Gold Medal, 1955

As titles go, A Bullet for My Lady ain't so bad. The problem is that that narrator Josh Camp has no lady, and the only person who takes a slug is a small time crook named Domingo Jiménez.

Barcelona sets the stage. Camp, a trader in airplanes, arrives in "the biggest, roughest city in Spain" to search for AWOL business partner Harry Spoke. He's barely set foot on Spanish soil when met by a beautiful woman who reports that the missing man got drunk and fell from the balcony of a fourth class hotel. Camp doesn't believe a word. Harry, always one for routine and discipline, never strayed from a two drink maximum.

Camp takes a room in the selfsame flophouse, where he's visited by the beautiful bearer of bad news, a moustachioed marquesa, a lovely lush named Lucille and, of course, Domingo Jiménez. As it turns out, all are searching for the coffin of a cardinal who, centuries earlier, was buried wearing vestments inlaid with pearls, rubies and diamonds. What we have is a dark, violent, not so funny It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.

A Bullet for My Lady ain't so bad. While the plot isn't much and the characters cardboard, Moore's sketches of Spain are at times quite striking. (He banged out the early chapters in Barcelona and Majorca.)

The fourth of his disowned novels, it appeared two months before Judith Hearne. Back in 1955, the Gold Medal thriller was Moore's moneymaker, bringing an advance that was well over ten times that proffered by André Deutsch for the more literary undertaking.

Three more Moore pulps followed.

Can you blame him?

Object: A cheap mass market paperback with spicy cover illustration by James Meese. The back cover features a curious black and white photograph that looks for all the world like a still from a movie that was never made.

Access: The first and only printing arrived at news stands in March 1955. Very Good copies begin at US$45 and, for no good reason, go up to US$150. Non-circulating copies can be found at the Toronto Public Library, Library and Archives Canada, McMaster University, the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Calgary and Simon Fraser University.

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20 January 2012

The Dominatrix of Time (and other fantasies)

There are no whip-wielding women in Masters of Time, green-skinned or otherwise. In fact, the only female so much as mentioned in the entire novel is aging spinster Nora Matheson. The 1974 Manor Books edition above is a cheat designed to appeal to adolescent boys. I was eleven when it arrived in stores.

With van Vogt, covers rarely reflect content. Publishers puff, peddling images that – four times out of five – are entirely unappealing.

Yes, four times out of five.

I present the following as evidence:

Super-Cérebro [Supermind]
Lisbon: Livros do Brasil, 1978

The Book of Ptath
London: Panther, 1975

Out of the Unknown
London: New English Library, 1970

宇宙嵐のかなた [Mission to the Stars]
Tokyo: Hayakawa, 1970

The Weapon Makers
New York: Greenberg, 1952

18 January 2012

Wasting Time on A. E. van Vogt

Masters of Time
A. E. van Vogt
New York: Macfadden-Bartell, 1967

Masters of Time opens with poor Norma Matheson scrambling up a slippery riverbank after a failed suicide attempt. Eleven years earlier she'd rejected college boyfriend Jack's marriage proposal to pursue a career in social service. How'd that go? The author won't say, though the publisher provides plenty in this pitch to prospective purchasers:

Front cover, back cover, front page – Macfadden-Bartell describes this novel three different ways, though not one is true to the plot.

The finest scene is the first. Norma rests on a park bench gathering herself for another run at the river when she's approached by Dr Lell, a gaunt man who offers a job recruiting mercenaries for "the Calonian cause". That she accepts might be an indication that things didn't go so well in the social service game. Norma soon discovers that her employer is not the country of Calonia, but aliens amassing soldiers for a war in the distant future. She runs to the local police station only to be temporarily transformed into a mute old woman by Dr Lell.

Norma next turns to the US Mail, penning a plea to former beau Jack, now a world-renowned physicist. The lengthy letter she receives in response is full of mixed messages. Jack questions her sanity, repeats each and every detail Norma has gleaned of the alien plot, provides scientific analyses of same, and encloses $200 so that she might pay for psychiatric help.

What began as a mildly interesting episode of Twilight Zone suddenly becomes awkward and disjointed. The novel stumbles forward, picking up and discarding characters, concepts and concerns while torturing the reader with pedestrian prose. Here are Jack's thoughts upon learning that he's aboard a spaceship bound for Venus:
Venus! He let the word roll around in his mind and it was exciting, intellectual food, immensely stimulating to a mind shaped and trained as was his. Venus? For ages, the dreams of men had reached into the skies, immeasurably fascinated by the mind-staggering fact of other worlds, as vast as their own continents, seas, rivers, treasure beyond estimate. And now for him there was to be reality.
This plain passage is atypical in that it is at least comprehensible. As in Bond parodies, van Vogt's villains reveal too much. Explanations are plentiful, advanced knowledge is imparted and secrets are spilled, but nothing the aliens say makes much sense:
"–the seventeenth x space and time manipulations... taking place sometime in the future... several years from now. Your spaceship either by accident or design caught up in the eddying current in the resulting time storm– Still no clue to the origin of the mighty powers being exercised."
While readers may feel that they have missed something, fault lies wholly with the author who in his Reflections of A. E. van Vogt reveals that the novel was but one cobbled together from unrelated stories. The effort was, as he put it, "fix-up work". I suggest that "hack work" is more appropriate. I'll add that that grafting lifeless things to other lifeless things brings animation only in science fiction... and not with science fiction.

Oh, one more thing: Nora and Jack get married in the end.

Trivia: The novel first appeared as "The Recruiting Station" in a 1942 issue of Astounding Science Ficton. It first appeared in book form coupled with a shorter pulp story, "The Changeling". It has also been published as Earth's Last Fortress.

Translations include L'ultima fortezza della terra (1976), La dernière fortresse (1978) and Beherrscher der Zeit (1978).

Object and Access: A mass market paperback, typical of its time, copies of the Macfadden-Bartell edition are plentiful and cheap. Good copies can be had for one dollar (double that for Very Good). The first edition, published in 1950 by Fantasy Press of Reading, Pennsylvania, is not nearly as rare as one might expect. Near Fine copies begin at the forty dollar range. In Canada, only the Toronto Public Library and a handful of universities have the novel in their collections.

16 January 2012

The Mystery Writer Mystery Unravels

'Keeping an Eye Out for Pamela Fry' pays off:

A writer friend informs that Pamela Fry, author of Harsh Evidence and The Watching Cat, is the very same Pamela Fry who once worked as an editor at McClelland & Stewart. Though Miss Fry's years with the publisher were not many – 1965 to 1971 – she did work with several canonical favourites, including Sinclair Ross, Ernest Buckler and Farley Mowat. I imagine she'll be best remembered not for her mysteries, but as the editor of The Edible Woman, Margaret Atwood's debut novel. A high point to be sure.

The low? Look no further than Eric Koch's ill-fated satire The French Kiss (1969), which I mention here only because the book just might lay claim to the worst launch in Canadian publishing history. In Jack, McClelland biographer James King tells us that The French Kiss was on bookstore shelves when legal advice came down that members of Quebec's Johnson family might have been slandered in its pages:
The three thousand books were recalled, small slips pasted over the offending passages and the copies then returned to retailers. Jack only learned of the potentially disastrous situation at the book's launch at the home of the book's editor Pamela Fry. He called her aside, told her the book would have to be recalled and acted quickly and decisively to prevent a lawsuit.
According to King, Pamela Fry left M&S in for a position on a federal government task force. In his autobiography, Drawing on Type, designer Frank Newfeld places her c.1980 at the National Gallery of Canada. From there the trail grows cold.
Thanks go out to my "writer friend" and to fellow sleuth Richard Blanchard.

Related post: Keeping an Eye Out for Pamela Fry

10 January 2012

The Canadian Publishers

McClelland and Stewart
"The Canadian Publishers"
1906 - 2012

Artwork by Astrid K. Busby
with apologies to Frank Newfeld

09 January 2012

POD Cover of the Month: Romany of the Snows

Romany of the Snows – what we sticklers refer to as A Romany of the Snows – another fine product from print on demand house Tutis. Take care, bears are not nearly as cute, cuddly, petite or domesticated as they'd have you believe. From the novel:
I got sick and numb. There on that anvil of snow and ice I saw a big white bear, one such as you shall see within the Arctic Circle. His long nose fetching out towards the bleeding sun in the sky, his white coat shining. But that was not the thing — there was another. At the feet of the bear was a body, and one clawed foot was on that body — of a man.
First edition:

New York: Stone & Kimball, 1896

Runner up:

The Tutis take on Michel and Angele – what we sticklers refer to as Michel and Angèle – Sir Gilbert's romantic tale of two young lovers in 16th-century England.

06 January 2012

Mister Gumble Meets David Golder

A brief follow-up, of sorts, to Monday's post on Mr. Gumble Sits Up.

One keen-eyed friend notes that Irène Némirovsky's David Golder features amongst the "Selection of Horace Liveright Fall Books" listed on the back flap. Indeed it does. The publisher seems to have really been behind this novel, pushing it also on Gumble's back jacket.

What cost two dollars back in 1930, cannot be had today... at least not through online booksellers; only two copies of this first English-language edition are listed. Both sans jacket, the more expensive is described thusly:
There [sic] pages are clean except for some slight damp stain at the outside edge of some pages. The half-cloth binding has some staining mostly to the orange front paper cover. The corners are bumped, the spine is cocked, and there is a small tear to the crown of the binding. Webbing is exposed in the back.
"Reading copy" is the bookseller's summary. Surely not! At US$500 – a price I expect he'll get – his is a copy for the collector. This is a reading copy:

Sold in the original French for a mere C$9.99. New.

02 January 2012

Dead Man Sitting

Mr. Gumble Sits Up
Douglas Durkin
New York: Liveright, 1930

Back in 1930, when it received its first and only printing, Mr. Gumble Sits Up was described by the Chicago Tribune as “a fantastic tale”. That I can’t report anything more says much about my reaction to this novel. Mr. Gumble Sits Up is a fantastic tale, and an intriguing book, but not so much that I’d pay the paper the US$3.95 they’re asking for the rest of the review.

The novel begins with the demise of its title character. Gumble is a simple and simple-minded small town hardware store owner. Unhappily married, pursed by creditors, he’s overtaken by mortal illness “on one of those very days when life had, so to speak, given him another beating.” His wife pulls back, creditors pull back, and Gumble enjoys the silence:
When he was told the solemn truth at last – that is he was about to die, was dying, in fact – Gumble embraced the knowledge with what remaining strength he had and went to sleep as peacefully as any child. In the morning he was dead.
Gumble’s rest in peace ends abruptly when he returns to life at his own funeral. This resurrection raises all sorts of interesting questions: Is the widow Gumble still free to marry her true love, Mr Pound of the village of Wayne? What of all those creditors? Should they begin apportioning the man’s estate or would they be obliged to extend their loans?

Ill-feelings abound, and Gumble figures it would be best for all concerned if he simply vanished. He sneaks away from this Leacockian quagmire, entering a rural America that bears some similarity to that of Liveright stable-mate Sherwood Anderson. Dark laughter meets black humour, bleak situations and curious conversations that consist almost entirely of what the dust jacket describes as “homely philosophy”. Here Gumble exchanges views with a snake oil salesman:
“It’s a wise man that accepts the truth and acts before it is too late.”
“True enough,” replied Gumble, “true enough! But you have heard, perhaps, that it is a wise man who knows when to doubt.”
The vendor looked puzzled for a moment. “I have never heard that, my friend,” he retorted at last, “but I have heard that a fool can ask questions a wise man can’t answer. What is it you want to know?”
Gumble knew how to appreciate a witty turn even when he himself was the butt of it. “Very good, very good!” he laughed affably.
And so it goes. Things happen – often fantastic, usually amusing – but all is undercut by page after page of tiresome dialogue, more often than not instigated by Gumble himself:
”You have heard it said, I am sure, that every dog must have his day.”
“You mean, perhaps, that by the same token we should let sleeping dogs lie,” laughed the widow.
“Very good!” Gumble declared and joined heartily in her laughter. “Very good, indeed!”
The reader is relieved when, after 230 pages of this, Gumble succumbs to an accidental drug overdose. Dead for a second and final time, he takes in a sun that “had never shone so brightly”, and just keeps talking:
“And what do you make of it all my friend?” he asked the first wayfarer he met. “or are you good at riddles?”
“As for that –” quoth God, and was silent.
Thus endeth the novel.

God is merciful, is he not?

Object: A well-constructed hardcover in black boards with gold lettering. The dust-jacket, turquoise paper with black and red printing, is a bit fragile. The back flap price reductions reflect Liveright's ineffective reaction to the 1930 book war begun when Doubleday and others slashed prices of their new fiction lists to one dollar.

Access: A rare book, it's held by not one of our public libraries and just eight of our university libraries. No copies are listed for sale online. My copy, the only I've ever seen offered, was purchased last month from an American bookseller for US$9.95.

Related post: Mr. Gumble Meets David Golder

01 January 2012

Immature Verse for a New Year

Twenty-two lines of celebration from Poems (Beauchemin, 1922), the first volume by young Ethel Ursula Foran (1900-1988). The daughter of True Witness editor Joseph Kearney Foran, himself a poet, she subtitled her collection of "immature verses" A Few Blossoms from the Garden of My Dreams.

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