From Way, Way Back in Your Reading Life

Extollager

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PS I think it's often forgotten (and I forgot to mention) that there's a third catastrophe in Triffids, a disease epidemic that kills a great many people swiftly. One could argue that Wyndham should have conveyed its horrors a bit more aggressively. One could also argue that the attentive reader will not need graphic accounts thereof. Those who think Wyndham should have depicted more roving bands of murderous thieves etc. should remember that so many people die quickly that one need not imagine constant violent competition for foodstuffs.
 

Extollager

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I'm reading The Disappearing Floor, a Hardy Boys book by "Franklin W. Dixon," copyright Grosset and Dunlap 1964. I think this was the one and only Hardy Boys book that I owned as a boy (and what happened to that copy, I don't remember). The spooky cover art


appealed to me. Neither my parents nor my teachers tried to inculcate in me a taste for the eerie. It is a bit of a mystery why it developed in me and not in some of my peers -- like the taste for science fiction.

I'm reading only a few pages of this at a time. Like some movies of the past few years, it moves too fast for me. My imagination has been "trained" to respond so as not necessarily to require a great deal of detail in order to evoke an appearance and atmosphere. Tolkien refers to this kind of thing in his "On Fairy-Stories" essay somewhere. The problem with the Hardy Boys book is that the narrative flows along with dramatic episodes constantly popping up. C. S. Lewis complained:

"If to love Story is to love excitement then I ought to be the greatest lover of excitement alive. But the fact is that what is said to be the most 'exciting' novel in the world, The Three Musketeers, makes no appeal to me at all. The total lack of atmosphere repels me. There is no country in the book--save as a storehouse of inns and ambushes. There is no weather. When they cross to London there is no feeling that London differs from Paris. There is not a moment's rest from the 'adventures': one's nose is kept ruthlessly to the grindstone. It all means nothing to me." (from his essay "On Stories")

Lewis also said that unliterary readers "demand swift-moving narrative. Something must always be 'happening'. Their favorite terms of condemnation are 'slow', 'long-winded', and the like. ...As the unmusical listener wants only the Tune, so the unliterary reader wants only the Event. The one ignores nearly all the sounds the orchestra is actually making; he wants to hum the tune. The other ignores nearly all that the words before him are doing; he wants to know what happened next. He reads only narrative because only there will he find an Event. ...he likes speed because a very swift story is all events" (from Chapter Four of An Experiment in Criticism, the little book that I occasionally plead with Chronsfolk to read and which I think would delight many).

It is a reader like this who is liable to be most pleased by The Disappearing Floor, and I suppose most children are "unliterary readers" much of the time at first -- although I wonder whether even quite young readers don't often enjoy also the sounds of words and their conjuring powers more than might be supposed.

I'm sure I liked The Disappearing Floor at around age 10. A half-century later, when I require more than a fast-moving sequence of adventures, I think I'm contributing quite a lot to make up for the book's deficiency in everything but adventures set forth with competent diction. (Oh, there is a little bit also of amusing characterization with the boys' aunt. But aside from names I can't tell 17-year-old Joe and 18-year-old Frank apart.) If I were to read the book at the speed permitted by its modest vocabulary, I could whip through it in short order, but with a strong desire to drop it because I have so little investment in it.

It remains to say that the eerie cover art does rather more than justice to the book's contents. The scene with the apparition goes by quickly and conjures very little mood. The incident obviously will relate in some way to a gang of jewel thieves, a pretty mundane concept.

Lewis also writes about how unliterary readers often require stories that invite them to imagine themselves as glamorous, or wealthy, or strong and heroic, etc. Clearly the Hardy Boys are meant to be a boy's daydream of what he'd like to be: free to come and go as he pleases, able to stay out late at will, able to drive a fast car, etc. The boys' father is a detective -- what boy wouldn't have loved for his dad to be a prosperous private eye? And good food is always forthcoming -- a "hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, and homemade muffins" on p. 18, a "hearty lunch" on p. 26). Girls? Well, "Joe grinned at Iola, whom he considered very attractive" (p. 23). But girls are kept in the background.

By the way, it appears the original version of the book dates to 1940.
 

Extollager

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I didn't persevere with the Hardy Boys. I took up an Ace paperback, Thomas M. Disch's novelization of television's The Prisoner. I probably bought it new when it was released no earlier than 1969. For a while I wrote hatchmarks in my books to indicate the number of readings. This book has just one, so I infer that I read it around 1970 and never since, though my interest in Patrick McGoohan's British TV series has persisted since I encountered it in 1969.

(This reminds me of a personal anecdote. My family and I had lived in Coos Bay, Oregon, where we received just one TV station, with NBC programming. We moved to Ashland, Oregon, in June 1969, and there could receive two stations; we had NBC and also CBS shows now. Thus I was able to see a tantalizing few of the Prisoner teleplays in summer reruns. Intrigued, I figured out a way to glean a little about the series. At the public library, I combed back issues of the Oregon Journal newspaper for episode summaries taken from its TV guide, and copied them by hand. Some of the episodes described were ones I'd managed to see, some not. We had one TV set, and The Prisoner was opposite Ironside, which some family members preferred, so sometimes I had to miss my new favorite show. Sample summary, for 7 August 1969: "You should become completely absorbed in episode that is well-scripted, well-acted and fascinatingly photographed. It has to do between [sic] chess-game, produced by No. 2 with human players taking parts of chessmen. Form conscious No. 2 has devised game to expose 'individuals': those who think for themselves rather than adhere to rules of chess game. One of these is our hero, who sees game as possible means for escape." I had to wait ten years to see the complete series, when it was broadcast by a Portland public TV station.)

Disch’s novel begins some time (a month? a year?) after #6 returned to London in the seventeenth and final TV episode. He is captured again. He sneaks into an archive where he finds seventeen films about himself; fans of the series will correlate these with the TV series, and one, “The Schizoid Man,” is recapitulated. Once again it’s cat-and-mouse between No. 6 and No. 2. Number 6 tries to determine if he has been to the Village before, since his memory is imperfect. I’m halfway through. Disch may have a twist or two ahead prepared for the reader. He gets across the ideas and atmosphere of the original quite well, for the most part (a bit of profanity doesn’t jibe with the original).

(Another personal anecdote: I’d been looking at some notes I wrote for my own reference, while on vacation some years ago. In one account I mention that I’d felt like I’d like to hear Dvořák’s Humoresque. That prompted me to get out a CD I hadn’t played in a while and put this track on. Minutes later, continuing my reading of Disch’s Prisoner, I found (p. 89) a reference to piped music playing Humoresque. … I don’t hold to Phil Dick’s view of the cosmos nor to Lovecraft’s, but if I had only those two to choose from, my experience on this and other occasions would suggest PKD was rather closer to the actual state of things than HPL was.)

 

Extollager

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Ace published two more Prisoner novels, the second by a guy who wrote a number of Man from U.N.C.L.E. books for the company, and the third by someone else. I have had the second book since 1980 and somehow never read it (but mean to do so soon, and to report at the From Way, Way Back in Your Book Backlog forum -- https://www.sffchronicles.com/threads/537022/ ). I read the third when it first appeared, and it was, as I recall, kind of indulgent in psychedelia and perhaps not much good, but that's an impression based probably on one reading, from the early 1970s. I distinctly remember that Mandi Schultz, who was a notable person in Prisoner fandom back then, didn't like the third book.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Prisoner_in_other_media#Ace
 

Extollager

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To the first personal anecdote in #103 above I may add that I was able to sort some Prisoner things out within a few years of the series' run (just glimpsed by me) on American TV, thanks to fandom. Somehow I got hold of a copy of En Garde #7, a fanzine issue devoted entirely to the series, presenting detailed synopses of each episode.

When I first was able to discuss the series with someone who knew it well, I thought that No. 6 was under surveillance from the watchers in the "underground room" -- in fact, they were in the green dome.

Also, as a kid listening to the radio I once heard someone say that the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" had been composed for television. Of course, it was recorded for a pioneering worldwide broadcast that had nothing to do with The Prisoner. But some Chronsfolk will remember the (in context rather sardonic) use of "All You Need Is Love" in the Prisoner's final episode.

The series had just the right kind and degree of mystification to intrigue me.

Its summer reruns were quite a contrast to the almost-contemporaneous sputtering finale of third-season Star Trek, and I'm sure helped one kid, at least, to get past whatever grief he might have experienced regarding the demise of the Enterprise. What a contrast the British series offered, with its teasing sense of relevance to our time, to the heavy-handed Star Trek shows about racial bigotry ("Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"), youth cult and guruism ("The Way to Eden"), etc.
 

Extollager

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Disch's Prisoner novel asks more thought from readers than TV tie-ins usually do. My guess is that the author took more pains with its writing than the publisher may have expected to get for whatever it paid him to write it. I'm not sure how cleverly the Measure for Measure material interacts with the Village ethos, etc. Nor am I sure the wrap-up, with No. 6 meeting No. 1 in person (No, No. 1 is not No. 6 here), is completely satisfactory. If this being is indeed No. 1, how did this being become what this being is? But I imagine many Prisoner fans would be disappointed by a conclusion that dispelled all the mysteries. On the other hand, mystification for its own sake isn't generally desirable. The book seems to me to be a qualified success.
 

Extollager

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Since 1974 I've kept a list of books read. Recently I happened to notice a Sept. 1984 record for the junior Bruce Bliven's Book Traveller. I had no recollection of it. .... It's a 1973 volume, taken from The New Yorker magazine, about George F. Scheer, a traveling trade book salesman or "publisher's commissioned representative." Bliven Jr. accompanies him to independent book stores (no chain bookstores) and says that the "total driving distance around Scheer's territory....is about twelve thousand miles." Scheer and another salesman "cover twelve states (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee)."
Just read the New Yorker version (12 Nov. 1973). I can recommend the magazine version or the book if you're curious about how aspects of the book trade worked back then. How different things are now. One wonders how many of the independent book stores that Bliven mentions survived into the new millennium, whether under their 1973 names or new ones. Can there be any "book travellers" around now, driving thousands of miles a year to see bookstore owner-managers in person and make low-pressure well-informed suggestions? I for one would enjoy seeing a PBS documentary, could such a thing be made, of interviews with people who used to be book travellers or who used to deal with them year by year.
 

SilentRoamer

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Extollager - brilliant!

I read the disappearing floor as a youngster and completely forgot it until I just saw this post.

Do you happen to remember another two Hardy Boys books (definitely written under Franklin W. Dixon) . One all about a comic book convention and one about something happening in the desert (they may even be the same book).
 

Extollager

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I commented on James Blish's Star Trek novel Spock Must Die! at the From Way, Way Back in Your Book Backlog subforum --

From Way, Way Back in Your Book Backlog

Here's my comment on the completed book. Spoilers....


25 July: Having finished the novel, I’ll say the Budrys connection is even more pronounced, since part of the story’s resolution is the telepathic or “telempathic” bond between the original and the replicate – a key element of “Rogue Moon.”

Blish seems to have set himself to write a short novel that would be completely acceptable to Star Trek fans as a fast-paced space opera-type adventure featuring their favorite characters (although if anyone was a Chekov fan, that reader might be disappointed, and a bit in which Lt. Uhura expresses the hope that someone whom she may be tutoring in a language will be “‘cute’” didn’t ring true) – and to write a book that would be tolerable to science fiction fans – so there’s more technical stuff than you’d ever get in a television episode. There’s a struggle between the two Spocks in a realm of seething illusions, with Kirk wishing he could shoot the bad Spock with his phaser but unable to do so, that was like something out of the series. The story ends with the Organians quarantining the entire Klingon Empire.
 

Extollager

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upload_2015-7-26_14-8-32.jpeg

Now I'm reading Paul Capon's novel for youngsters, published in 1955 by Bobbs-Merrill, Lost: A Moon. The thesis is that the Martian satellite Phobos is actually a hollow metal sphere. Curiously, according to Wikipedia this notion was floated by the Russian scientist Shklovsky... around 1958.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phobos_(moon)

I wonder how Capon came to proffer this notion thus early. About Capon:

http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/capon_paul

After they have seen strange lights in the sky for several days, a famous painter and his teenaged daughter and her male friend are kidnapped and taken to the Martian moon. It is a computer, emotionless but aggressive in its acquisition of information, which it seeks from its three Terran captives and a sailor which it has confused with William Shakespeare. It was built by the Martians hundreds of years ago, who evidently have left their home world. Deimos also is an artificial satellite, but it apparently has worn out in the course of time.

I'm not certain that I ever read this book through to the end. I remember it as one of the relatively few sf books in the children's section of the Coos Bay, Oregon, public library back in the 1960s, with the cover shown above. It might be that I looked it over more than once but for some reason didn't read it.
 

Extollager

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Finished Lost: A Moon --

The teenaged characters briefly visit Mars, and here the description of the fauna reminded me a bit of Stanley G. Weinbaum. They escape back to Phobos in the nick of time, and then the girl’s father effects a second escape, to Earth, with the destruction of Phobos (hence the book’s title). I think Capon tried to include some plausible physics while writing an entertainment for young readers. I finished the book still unsure as to whether I did read it as a kid; perhaps not.
 

Extollager

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John T. Phillifent's The Mad Scientist Affair, the fifth book in Ace's Man from U.N.C.L.E. series of the mid-1960s. I had a copy many years ago, don't know what happened to it, but it seems that all these years I remembered reading one of these paperback spinoffs with a sequence in which our hero(es) are following a truck and electronically causing its cargo of beer to explode. That incident does indeed appear in this book, which faithfully captures the flavor of the series: espionage devices, high-tech labs, debonair dialogue, burglarious entry, rapid pace, a danger to the world from advanced science, beautiful women, Thrush thugs, multiple locations, a buildup to violence in which guys are shot and fall from heights, etc.

 

psikeyhackr

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John T. Phillifent's The Mad Scientist Affair, the fifth book in Ace's Man from U.N.C.L.E. series of the mid-1960s.
I probably read that. I know I read the earlier ones in the series. The one I remember had a scientist develop some kind of electrical dampening field that could affect people's brains and eventually kill them. LOL

psik
 

Victoria Silverwolf

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I probably read that. I know I read the earlier ones in the series. The one I remember had a scientist develop some kind of electrical dampening field that could affect people's brains and eventually kill them. LOL

psik
I read that one. It was The Dagger Affair by well-known Los Angeles fan David McDaniel. It was this novel which explained that THRUSH stood for "The Technological Hierarchy for the Removal of Undesirables and the Subjugation of Humanity" and that it was created by Professor Moriarty.
 

Extollager

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Psik, that was a different mad scientist from the one in the book I read. In mine, the mad scientist is a brewery owner who has developed a yeasty concoction with which to turn the seas into glop.

There's an article that surveys the Ace U.N.C.L.E. books and claims McDaniel as the best author. (His Prisoner book was good, but I haven't read any of his others.) Furthermore it lists The Dagger Affair and The Vampire Affair as the best two, by consensus of fans.

http://www.manfromuncle.org/reviewp1.htm
 

Extollager

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I read that one......
Years ago?

I think I owned one other U.N.C.L.E. novel, either #3 (The Copenhagen Affair) or #8 (The Monster Wheel Affair). I didn't know anyone to borrow any of the others from. The public library didn't have them, but what I'm wondering is if the public library even had any paperbacks at all, to speak of. But it did have the Ballantine editions of Tolkien, because I remember discovering Tolkien thanks to a display at the public library, around 1966. But I wonder if they had any other paperbacks! If they did, none of them seem to have interested me sufficiently for me to check them out, unless I've forgotten -- which perhaps would not be a big surprise, as long ago as this was.

But how about other folks who were library users years ago? Do you remember a time when the public library did not buy mass market paperbacks? Or, if they did, did they restrict them to just one or two rotating racks rather than shelving them with the more permanent books?
 

Victoria Silverwolf

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My experience has always been with a few rotating racks.

And yes, it was many years ago when I read that U.N.C.L.E. book. I also recall having an issue or two of the magazine, so that would be in the late 1960's.
 
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